Suffering for Science: Human-Animal Hybrids

The word chimera dates back to the 14th century, where it referenced a fire-breathing monster from Greek mythology. In modern times, it refers to a being with genetic material from two distinct species. No longer are these animals monsters. They are real-life animals trapped in research facilities.

A chimera is a hybrid. And animal experimenters are increasingly engineering new creatures that are both human and non-human animal. In 2013, an article was published demonstrating that grafting human cells onto a mouse’s brain increased the mouse-human hybrid’s cognition.

What ethical consideration do we owe these “new” creatures? The common justification for our subjugation of animals is that humans have more or more complex interests than animals. For example, we’re smarter than the animals we experiment on. But what can our justification be when that distinction disappears?  

Imagine a chimpanzee - already able to use tools, to communicate, to learn, and to feel. Now imagine an animal experimenter putting human cells into that chimpanzee, creating a human-chimpanzee chimera. That new creature may have abilities that make them virtually indistinguishable from that of a human. If this seems both fantastic and terrifying, that may be because it is the premise of Planet of the Apes. But that does not make our current moral challenge any less important to resolve.  

The law is similarly ill equipped to deal with this moral ambiguity. We have laws that govern animal experimentation, and laws that govern human experimentation, but nothing on the books that regulate the in-between. The government should treat all human animal chimeras that demonstrate enhanced cognition as human research subjects. Only this standard will adequately protect potential or actual human-animal chimeras from this risks associated with testing.  

There may be an upcoming opportunity for NEAVS supporters to comment on a rulemaking petition submitted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund that would grant certain human-animal chimeras the same rights afforded to human research subjects. At that time, we’ll be calling on you to advocate that the government protect all human-animal chimeras as if they are human subjects.  

Last year I made a presentation at Harvard University about the upcoming controversies in the law surrounding animals in research. Watch my video to learn more.