Intrigued or Disgusted?
The thought of creating unnatural combinations of species, or chimeras, disturbs and intrigues me for a number of reasons.
According to Brittanica Encyclopedia, “In Greek Mythology, [a chimera was] a fire-breathing female monster resembling a lion in the forepart, a goat in the middle, and a dragon behind…In art the Chimera is usually represented as a lion with a goat’s head in the middle of its back and with a tail that ends in a snake’s head.”
However, another Greek Mythological “chimera” is Pegasus, whose reputation is more positive:
Wikipedia credits Homer: “Homer’s brief description in the Illiad is the earliest surviving literary reference: ‘a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire.’”
In genetics, a chimera is defined by the dictionary as “an organism composed of two or more genetically distinct tissues, as an organism that is partly male and partly female, or an artificially produced individual having tissues of several species.”
Now that you have an idea of the etymology of the word, consider this:
The process of vivisection that H.G. Wells’s Dr. Moreau uses in The Island of Dr. Moreau explores how physical pain can play into the concept of creating a chimera. He creates his “experimental” human-beasts from animals upon which he operates while they are alive and conscious. Prendick, the narrator, puts specific emphasis on the disturbing nature of the animals’ screams of pain. Dr. Moreau’s pursuit of knowledge is an admirable aspiration, but the process he uses is inhumane. Some argue that as long as the animals cannot mentally process the implications of this pain, their suffering is not only insignificant, but is necessary for the broader goals of scientific study. However, I believe that the purposeful infliction of consistent, unwavering pain on any living thing, animal or human, is not the right way to go about improving one’s knowledge.
I am not an animal rights activist. I eat meat, and one of my favorite dinners is wild duck that has been shot specifically for my dinner table. (No offense, to any vegetarians out there.) However, my point is that there are certain limitations that people should not be allowed to cross, even in the name of scientific research. Torture is one of them.
Having said this, I realize that not all chimeras are created through vivisection. They are a scientific phenomenon that can be created by combining DNA from two different species to create a new species, or “animal.” Why do so many of us cringe at the thought?
Perhaps we cringe because chimeras are unnatural, and sometimes uncomfortable to look at. Perhaps we recoil because chimeras prove the possibility of an obscure concept of the potentials of human creation. I believe that most people who fear the idea of a chimera do so, in part, because of the mythological connotations and rumors formed about them. The media and literature have no doubt fostered these rumors in some ways – by turning “chimera-makers” like Dr. Moreau into unfeeling (and perhaps immoral) scientists. Those who do not understand the scientific procedures only see the gruesome potentials of the concept.
I fully appreciate the advancement of scientific research, and, personally, I think that the concept of creating a new animal is really cool. However, how far can we, as a society of moral beings, take it? There must be rules to govern the morality of this science in relation to human experimentation. I believe that the advancement of his “chimera” science is important and interesting for knowledge, but not at the cost of manipulating the human form.