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Tilting at Windmills

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July 11, 2009

CONSERVATIVES PUSH FOR 'HUMAN-ANIMAL HYBRID' BAN.... In his 2006 State of the Union address, then-President George W. Bush urged Congress to pass legislation curbing what he considered "egregious abuses of medical research." Among the threats in need of a legislative remedy? A ban on "creating human-animal hybrids." It wasn't long before it was widely mocked.

But some conservatives on the Hill continue to take the matter very seriously.

Senate Republicans have introduced legislation to ban the creation of human-animal hybrids. [...]

[Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.)] introduced a bill [Thursday] that would prevent U.S. researchers from developing embryos that use both human and animal material, a controversial practice underway in the UK.

Brownback has long been an opponent of stem cell research and human cloning, yet the idea of human-animal hybrids has gotten little media attention.

"What was once only science fiction is now becoming a reality, and we need to ensure that experimentation and subsequent ramifications do not outpace ethical discussion and societal decisions," Brown said last year when he introduced similar legislation. "History does not look kindly on those who violate the dignity of the human person."

There are currently 20 co-sponsors for Brownback's bill -- 19 conservative Republicans and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who warned this week against the "blending" of species.

It's unclear whether the legislation stands a chance of passing -- my sense is, it's unlikely -- but this kind of ban may have serious consequences for medical researchers. Indeed, when far-right activists talk about banning "human-animal hybrids," they're often trying to make a sweeping ban on stem-cell research, which can involve mouse cells.

What's more, whether these 20 conservative senators appreciate it or not, research that may fall under the "human-animal hybrid" umbrella includes some potentially life-saving science. I recently spoke to a scientist who explained, "For example, it is currently unclear just how certain viruses spread in a person. Animal models are the preferred method of studying such things (for obvious reasons) but many pathogens are species restricted, meaning you cannot infect a mouse with them. By generating a mouse that carries genes to make what are effectively human cells (molecularly, and only a specific subset of cells, such as liver cells, or immune cells) these experiments can be done. Legislation banning such research has profound implications for our ability to stay competitive in the world in terms of basic research, not to mention in terms of medical developments."

Conservatives have also struggled to define what, in their minds, constitute an actual "hybrid." If someone with heart trouble has a transplant with a pig valve, is this a "blending" of species that should be outlawed?

Again, I have a hard time believing that Congress would pass such a measure, and an even harder time imagining that the White House would sign a ban into law. But that 20 conservative senators (and counting) would champion such a bill is nevertheless distressing.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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Well you know they don't have to worry about human-animal hybrids in Sweden or Finland where they have pure genes.

Posted by: John Wallach on July 11, 2009 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe someone should ask those conservative senators what the heck is going on in that C Street house that we haven't yet heard about.

Posted by: ghillie on July 11, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

we are ruled by technology, of that i have no doubt.. paraphrasing nietzsche: what we can do we will do.

but the repugs are amusing in their 'frame' of the issue. these are the dudes with the elephant trunk penises, always looking for peanuts...

and the monkey hands, always looking to fondle thighs...

it's too late for them, they're already too cloned to their own animal parts...

Posted by: neill on July 11, 2009 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

I'd love to see the results of a science knowledge test given to each member of congress. No need for hard questions or controversial areas like chimeras, just test them on ground-level knowledge in astronomy, chemistry, and physics. I don't think the Democrats would score especially high, but I am certain that many on the far right would score close to zero.

Posted by: Travis on July 11, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

It's about time someone did something about all those hybrids you see these days.

Posted by: tomb on July 11, 2009 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

They are so STUPID! Years ago I was burned and they had to take skin off my hip to graft on the burns. For a month I had to heal in TWO spots...it was hell. NOW they use pigskin to graft on burns. It adheres, looks like human skin and doesn't necessarily kill the pig. Is THIS mixing human and animal? Let me at it!!!

Posted by: SYSPROG on July 11, 2009 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, Steve. why distressing? The GOP is full of crazy people at this point. This is totally predictable, this kind of agit-prop bullshit.

I'm a little concerned about where the Republican party is going to end up, if it keeps on this way. It's not a good thing that one party in a two-party democracy is, essentially, psychotic.

If that's what distresses you, then I'm with you, but there's nothing surprising about anything the GOP does at this point. They're down-the-hole, over-the-cliff, off-the-rails.

Posted by: LL on July 11, 2009 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, Brownback is just pandering to the Fox News crowd trying to make it illegal to marry outside your species. Yet for eight long years we had a human first lady married to a complete ass.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on July 11, 2009 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

God schmod, I want my monkeyman!

Posted by: Bart S. on July 11, 2009 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans should be really careful with this, as it might give a future administration license to go after naturally-occurring human-animal hybrids, such as Jeff Sessions and James Inhofe, not to mention legions of their supporters.

Posted by: kth on July 11, 2009 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Louisiana passed a similar ban on June 19, effective in August. Landrieu playing to the home fans.

Posted by: Keith b on July 11, 2009 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

"History does not look kindly on those who violate the dignity of the human person."

...except when we torture people.

Posted by: terraformer on July 11, 2009 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

What'll they do next? Ban probiotic yogurt? Gasp.

Posted by: MissMudd on July 11, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

"If someone with heart trouble has a transplant with a pig valve, is this a 'blending' of species that should be outlawed?"

Obviously; that would be an abomination unto the LORD. (The pig is an unclean animal, as we are told in Leviticus.)
And as to monkey parts...

Posted by: smartalek on July 11, 2009 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Oy! I am that "someone" with the pig valve! Two months ago they did the deed. Anyone know if I can get refugee status in Canada?

Posted by: Thaumaturgist on July 11, 2009 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

I think Brownback has watched the New Zealand movie, "Black Sheep" one too many times.

Posted by: Corey on July 11, 2009 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans almost certainly think they're talking about the Island of Dr. Moreau.

Posted by: alan on July 11, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

As a human geneticist, I can see how such a ban, if not carefully worded, would outlaw several major techniques that have been used routinely for years. For example, we frequently insert a single human gene in mice in order to characterize the gene's normal function and role in causing disease. This could easily be seen as a 'hybrid' that would fall under the ban.

Posted by: Platypus on July 11, 2009 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like South Park's ManBearPig episode should have featured Sam Brownback instead of Al Gore.

Posted by: ibid on July 11, 2009 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

It is a pretty standard biochemical practice to create mutant yeast that will express human versions of various enzymes. So much for biochemistry.

Posted by: Aaron on July 11, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Ok, first of all, Steve, you can't link to a Thomas.gov search. It's a temporary link that gets cleared rather quickly. It's been this way since I first used Thomas.gov almost 20 yrs ago.

Secondly, Steve, did you even bother to read the bill, S 1435? Did any of you? Although obviously written by a scientific illiterate (it bans fertilizing human eggs with non-human sperm), it neither bans transplants of animal tissue into humans nor does it ban inserting a few human genes or cells into animal embryos for research purposes.

Here's the key text from the bill defining what they are banning:

a human embryo into which a non-human cell or cells (or the component parts thereof) have been introduced to render the embryo's membership in the species Homo sapiens uncertain

Again, obviously not written by a scientist, but is there anyone on here (excepting the random transhumanist) who sincerely wishes to argue with the spirit of that?

We all know, Steve, that mocking all things GOP is your raison d'etre, but when you just make crap up, you merely end up looking like the liberal version of Fox News.

Posted by: Disputo on July 11, 2009 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Wow. Brownback, the poster, and every single commenter here seem to share the notion that humans are NOT animals? You do know all lifeforms share the same genetic code, and species distinctions are arbitrary? One biologist's subspecies is another's new genus! What i'm trying to say is, this entire concept being debated is bogus. Hell, most of the cells in your body are bacterial. Human isn't even human, we're already "hybrids".

Posted by: Blue on July 11, 2009 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

>Again, obviously not written by a scientist, but is there anyone on here (excepting the random transhumanist) who sincerely wishes to argue with the spirit of that?

Me! I think that is idiotic. The only way that makes sense, is if you believe humans are a finished design. And if you believe that ...

Posted by: Blue on July 11, 2009 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

It's really an Animal Farm kind of thing; the pigs look more humanish, and the human looks more piggish.

And y'all better not tell those idiots that I'm really Dr. Moreau in a very clever disguise, either. I'd have to start turning you all into Alaskan moose....

Posted by: S. Waybright on July 11, 2009 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

There are lots of very scary things about the current crop of GOP legislators.

But maybe the scariest of all is, a significant number of these ignoramuses (including the former majority leader) are M-freakin'-Ds!!!

Even scarier: One assumes they'll be allowed to "practice" medicine again when they leave politics.

Posted by: efgoldman on July 11, 2009 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Pure human insulin is made by inserting a human gene into a bacterium. Every type 1 diabetic in the world gets it, most probably relatives of the stone head senators as well

Posted by: marvin thalenberg on July 11, 2009 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

I see no problem with the ban, we can always use Republicans as our test subjects. And they will no doubt be willing to do so if God orders them. And with enough audio technology and a few visual effects, we'll have no problem convincing them that we are God. And I call dibs on Sam Brownback as my next test subject.

Posted by: fostert on July 11, 2009 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

Does it mean I'd have to close my Centaur farm? Just as I was about to branch out into Minotaur production? Or will the Greek mixes be exempt and only the Egyptian ones banned?

Posted by: exlibra on July 11, 2009 at 7:43 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps they're just disguising another attempt to ban stem cell research, but then again, perhaps they're seriously worried that we'll create intelligent pigs.

You know, I'm looking forward to the intelligent pigs.

Sure, if and when some place on this earth people began to create real hybrids that bring intelligence to other creatures --- sure that will create a host of new problems that need solving. But, assuming the pigs are happy, what a wonderful thing it might be! What great things we might do together!

Posted by: catherineD on July 11, 2009 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

Not to worry. Brownback pushed almost the exact same bill in 2005 (S.1373.IS), and again in 2007 (S.2358.IS), and it failed those times as well. The 2007 bill's backers were almost the same as this time--a few more names added to the list, but mostly the same crowd (including, by the way, Vitter and Ensign, both paragons of ethicality). It's a perennial loser bill and will die in committee like the last two times.

Posted by: BlogD on July 12, 2009 at 3:15 AM | PERMALINK

OMG! Manimals!

It is presently uncertain to which species Brownback belongs. He should be outlawed.

Seriously, what is his concern? Is he afraid such pre-born Snowflake Babies will not be adopted? Is he worried his high school taxonomy text will become outdated? Does he think a human-ctenophore hybrid will beat him in a future election?

Posted by: mark on July 12, 2009 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

catherineD: of course pigs are intelligent. Didn't you see the movie "Babe"? He could speak English (and dog, and sheep).

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