The National Institutes of Health recently opened the possibility of federal funding for chimera research, the genetic mixing of human and nonhuman animals. An immediate response from both professional pundits and the general public expressed profound discomfort with this idea. The rapidly advancing field of genetics rarely affords the opportunity for deep ethical reflection before another breakthrough splashes the headlines. Too few people seem to grasp that this is a question of funding, and the research will happen regardless of public discomfort. Should federal grants be used to encourage more research in this area? Arguments supporting the measures range from those that beg the question and wrongly assume the ethics have already been settled, to familiar consequentialist and utilitarian appeals to the immeasurable possible goods, and reductionist views of human beings as merely animals with no special nature to protect. The most effective counter is to get past ill-defined charges of playing God and provide a robust understanding of what it means to be human, with serious consideration on the nature of the life we wish to create for the purposes of exploitation. We are the imago Dei, set apart by the Creator who made each according to our own kind. Human beings are not the kind of thing that ought to be used for others’ benefit. Purposefully creating a subhuman form of life in order to have something as similar to us biologically as is possible without involving moral obligation is an illegitimate endeavor.

This Postmodern Realities episode is a conversation with Journal author Jay Watts about his article “On Chimeras and What It Means to Be Human“.

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