March 15, 2005

"Are you a man or a mouse?"

Jeremy Rifkin writes in The Guardian today about frightening developments in the development of lab animals: mice with human brains, pigs with human blood, sheep with human livers and hearts. He describes speculation about creating a human-chimpanzee chimera. Chimpanzees and humans already have in common 98% of their genetic code, and, Rifkin says, and adult chimpanzees has the mental abilities and consciousness of a 4-year-old human.

Of course, a 4-year-old human does not in return have the mental abilities and consciousness of an adult chimpanzee. Which is to say, the chimpanzee has its own consciousness. Rifkin worries about the ethical challenges these chimeras will raise. But if researchers can rationalize their abuse of "98% human" chimpanzees, they will have no problem continuing with "99% human" models, especially if they are the ones that create such an animal.

Rifkin says this can not go farther. But it has already gone too far. He implies that research with "normal" animals is ethically sound. It is not.

Animal research is justified in that it provides "models" for human physiology and even psychology where it would be unethical to experiment on people. Ethics should tell us that such similarity, not to mention the integrity of each animal's own individual and social life, means that using them so is as wrong as using people. Well, the researchers say, they are not in fact so very like us, because human tests are ultimately necessary to prove what was found in the animals. Then the animal tests are not only unethical but ultimately unjustifiable! What does it mean to be human? For many, it seems, it means to be different from the other animals, which we can easily prove by using them for tawdry entertainment, useless research, wasteful food, and decadent clothing -- just as racists and sexists cling to their historical or imagined privileges, to their sense, however deluded, of being above their victims.

Are you a man or a mouse? Yes.

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