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BIOETHICS

Protectors of the Human Race

Conservatives Want to Keep Your Genes Pure

A statute of Theseus battling the mythological Minotaur. SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons A statute of Theseus battling the mythological Minotaur.
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Jonathan Moreno and John Neurohr discuss animal-human hybrids for Mic Check Radio

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So what’s the appropriate progressive response to the recent under-the-radar attempts from conservatives to ban the creation of animal-human hybrids? “Strategically,” suggests SP Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Moreno, “the answer is caricature. Because the silliness is outrageous.”

In 2005, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) introduced the “Human Chimera Prohibition Act of 2005.” The bill never left committee, but White House speechwriters inserted a clause into President Bush’s 2006 State of the Union speech calling for legislation that banned the creation of “human-animal hybrids“—a change of terms Moreno suggested at the time might have been a result of scientific confusion on the part of the president’s advisers.

A chimera is an animal carrying cells that are genetically distinct from those of the host. Thousands of model animals used for important medical research on debilitating human diseases fall into this biological definition. But so do women who’ve ever been pregnant, as they continue to carry some fetal cells in their body afterward. Heart patients who have had a faulty heart valve replaced with one transplanted from a pig are also technically chimeras. A hybrid, on the other hand, is a special kind of chimera, the result of inter-species genetic mixing in reproductive cells, and carries traits from the two different species. Mules, for instance, are the sterile product of a male donkey and a female horse. The mythological minotaur from the isle of Crete would also presumably fit this definition.

This year, Brownback has apparently brushed up on the difference and introduced the a new bill to ban human-animal hybrids.* But legislators in Louisiana rushed ahead, and on July 13 Governor Bobby Jindal (R) signed a bill that outlaws the creation human-animal hybrids in his state. One wonders if residents would agree that the threat of monsters is of more concern than continued recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Louisiana scientists take notice: the law spells out punishments that can include up to 10 years of hard labor.

Moreno sat down with CAP colleague John Neurohr to talk about this bizarre strategy that weaves together pieces of arguments about abortion, stem cell research, and even the Terri Schiavo case. “There is a systematic attempt to create a narrative around conservatives as the protectors of the species,” says Moreno. The historical irony being that they’ve tried repeatedly to pin that eugenic label on progressives.

To listen to the podcast of the conversation, see the audio player in the sidebar, download the mp3, or subscribe via iTunes.

More from Jonathan Moreno on legislative efforts to ban animal-human hybrid: “Manimal Planet

* An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the new bill as the “Human-Animal Chimera Prohibition Act.”

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