Lions and Tigers and Ligers, Oh MY!
Historically, Chimeras, or hybrids of more than one type of creature found naturally in the world, have been represented as both horrifying and awe-inspiring. In Greek mythology alone, the Sphinx is a seductive and evil siren who will just as soon gobble you up as ask you an almost impossible riddle. Pegasus, however, another mythical chimera is a combination of a horse and a bird, giving him wings and the ability to fly. Pegasus is a noble creature who helps the Gods defeat evil.
This historically conflicted attitude is perhaps the best way to think about chimeras in general. Chimeras are both scientific wonders and horrifying contradictions to nature.
The Island of Dr. Moreau, by HG Wells, is a book about a mad scientist who hunkers down on an island and creates semi-humanoid monsters with the hides and organs of animals he cuts up and rearranges. The tale is meant to be a warning as to just what can happen when science crosses ethical boundaries, and I personally read the novel with a permanent cringe. It is horrifying to think about the potential consequences of “creating” humans from non-human materials. Would they be men? In the novel they were told they had to behave like real men in an effort to mask their animal instincts and control them. Lets imagine for a moment that there actually were creatures of this sort on an island somewhere and we encountered them and brought them back to civilization. Here are some questions I have:
Would they be granted the same rights as “born” humans?
Are they even to be called human?
What defines human anyway? Is is our ability to think? Create? Judge? Speak?
Would our definition of human change as these creatures who could mostly act and behave as we do were introduced?
All these issues plagued me as I read this interesting book. I found myself with a significant amount of sympathy for these childish humanoids. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the book I cannot quite put my finger on the nature of this sympathy. On the one hand I felt awful that they were subjected to the pain and suffering of becoming human simply on a physical level. On the other hand, I felt bad that they were forced to turn their backs on all their animal instincts due to Moreau’s “Law” (his effort to squash any dangerous qualities in the beast men). They seemed like such a pathetic lot– even the more scary of them like leopard man. They had to skulk about the island and keep it hidden that they were eating meat… WELL OF COURSE THEY WERE. This instinct to eat meat for carnivorous animals is ingrained in their DNA. No splicing or dicing of Dr. Moreau’s knife could have removed this tendency. No– Dr. Moreau’s version of chimerism is certainly not what we have in mind when we think about creatures like Pegasus.
What is strange about this debate is that humans have been engaged in creating chimeras since 1665. This was when the first successful transfusion was completed (on a dog, no less). Since then we have been transfusing blood in humans and even organs. Under the technical definition this is, in fact, chimerism. Strange to think about huh? Most people think Chimera and get horrific or dramatic images such as medusa or centaurs. It is funny that chimeras have been living among us as humans for many hundreds of years. This form of chimerism I do and willingly accept.
So where do we draw the line– and how?
There are strict codes of ethics surrounding creating chimeras, but the problem is certain experiment could potentially buy us some crucial scientific knowledge we previously had no way to obtain– we just don’t know what could happen.
For now I would say simply leave humans (or human characteristics) out of it. Continue to play with lab rats and coat color– sure. Continue transfusing and transplanting from human to human to save lives. But please. The minute I hear about an ape-man, I may just have a heart attack.
CHECK THIS LINK (a trailer for the 1977 Island of Dr. Moreau. Creepy no?) — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZCIPb2XTms