Should a human-pig chimera be treated as a human?

“Should a human-pig chimera be treated as a human?”–that’s the title of an article I came upon in Aeon.

It’s a variation of a question that I raise early-on in my technothriller,  A REMEDY FOR DEATH. In REMEDY, a researcher tries to implant brain cells from a human fetus into a young chimp. (Not a plot-spoiler: that is only a small part of the story.)

In the Aeon article, the focus is on the pigs that may be used to grow replacement human organs.

“In this case, the scientists take a skin cell from a human and from this make stem cells capable of producing any cell or tissue in the body, known as ‘induced pluripotent stem cells’. They then inject these into a pig embryo to make a human-pig chimera. In order to create the desired organ, they use gene editing, or CRISPR, to knock out the embryo’s pig’s genes that produce, for example, the pancreas. The human stem cells for the pancreas then make an almost entirely human pancreas in the resulting human-pig chimera, with just the blood vessels remaining porcine. Using this controversial technology, a human skin cell, pre-treated and injected into a genetically edited pig embryo, could grow a new liver, heart, pancreas or lung as required.”

So now suppose the human patient has a fresh new pancreas grown in the pig. But, once that pancreas is taken out, what about the pig?  Off to the pork-chop shop?  No! It’s not so simple. “It is not a pig with a human pancreas inserted into it—it is a human-animal chimera . . . This could affect the chimera’s brain.”

In short, maybe, just maybe, that chimera—whether pig or chimp—may have something approaching human brain function or other “characteristics that we usually think of as having moral relevance.”

Seems far-fetched that a pig or a chimp might begin developing human-like brains, but a whole lot of far-fetched stuff  is fast becoming reality in today’s world.


FOR MORE on human-animal chimeras and related topics including organ harvesting, growing human body parts, human stem-cells, mice given human brain cells, what is a human?, and others I invite you to check out my blog for A REMEDY FOR DEATH.

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