Arizona is back in the news for another controversial new law. Only this time the law sounds like it came right out of a science fiction movie. Effective as of July 29, 2010 it will be illegal in the state for scientists to produce or try to produce a human-animal hybrid.
Last Friday, Governor Jan Brewer signed the new law which will prohibit any resident of Arizona from “creating or attempting to create an in vitro human embryo by any means other than fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm.” The statute also makes it a crime to “knowingly destroy human embryonic stem cells during research” and makes it illegal to clone a human being.
Although the law appears to be futuristic and a little over the top, researchers have begun to experiment on creating Chimeras — “hybrid life forms that contain genetic material from both humans and animals.”
A story written in Frum Forum describes three separate research projects that have attempted this:
- In 2003, Chinese scientists took human cells and fused them into rabbit embryos, creating human-rabbit hybrids. They developed for a few days before being destroyed.
- In 2005, Stanford University researchers trying to find a new treatment for Alzheimer’s, injected human embryonic stem cells into the brains of mouse fetuses.
- In 2007, scientists at the University of Nevada, Reno developed a sheep whose cells were 15 percent human.
The concept of creating a hybrid life poses a whole array of ethical questions and that is why Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, drafted the statute for Arizona. She became concerned after reading how scientists in the United Kingdom put human DNA into empty cow eggs in order to create special embryonic stem cells for the research of various diseases.
Barto explained, “It’s placing some ethical boundaries around scientific research in Arizona. This law will proactively prevent such experimentation.”
“We’re drawing a protective line to say that human life is valuable and needs to be protected,” she continued. “We need to make sure that we’re not going outside of that ethical boundary.”
Ironically the new law may end up protecting innocent animals from being used in Arizona laboratories for research. And it may make people take a second look at how similar animals are to humans — in terms of feelings and intellect.
If research in the area continues, someone will have to decide what percentage of a species is human and what rights they have. It also brings up issues of ownership and slavery.
On the other hand, critics of the new law don’t believe it is necessary at all because the National Academy of Sciences has set up their own guidelines on human-animal hybrid research. These guidelines only allow the DNA from humans to be fused into the embryos of animals and not vice versa. The implication is that only a small part of a human is being placed inside a whole animal.
The guidelines also forbid any successful human-animal hybrid that reaches maturity from breeding.
Creating human-animal hybrids is a confusing proposition. Arizona may have made a smart decision to pass a law that sidesteps these issues.
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