A parahuman or para-human is a human-animal hybrid or chimera, an entity that incorporates genetic elements from both humans and non-human animals. The term is also related to "cybrids" (cytoplasmic hybrids), with "cybrid" cells featuring foreign human nuclei inside of them being a topic of interest. Another technical definition given for a para-human is that of an entity formed from either a human egg fertilized by a nonhuman sperm or a nonhuman egg fertilized by a human sperm. While at first being only a hypothetical concept, the first stable human-animal chimeras to actually exist were first created by Shanghai Second Medical University scientists in 2003, the result of having fused human cells with rabbit eggs.
In terms of scientific ethics, the creation of para-human entities is a topic that has been subject to some debate in the U.S. and the U.K., with the state of Arizona banning the practice altogether in 2010. A proposal on the subject sparked some interest in the U.S. Senate from 2011 to 2012 but ended up going nowhere. Although the two concepts are not strictly related, discussions of para-human experimentation has paralleled the discussions around embryonic stem-cell research (the 'stem cell controversy').
Scientists have done extensive research generally into the mixing of genes or cells from different species, e.g. adding human (and other animal) genes to bacteria and farm animals to mass-produce insulin and spider silk proteins as well as introducing human cells into mouse embryos for drug testing.
The concept of humanoid creatures with hybrid characteristics from animals, played in a dramatic and sensationalized fashion, has been a recurrent topic in fictional media such as Hollywood films. An example is Splice, a 2009 movie that involved experimental genetic research.
Defining human-animal hybrids and chimeras
A chimera more generally is a being composed of two or more genetically distinct cell lines, with a popularly known example being rare and expensive pet cats with dual fur colors (giving them a 'two-faced' look). A hybrid being has one cell line throughout its entire body and came originally from a mix of entities, with different species involved to make a new genetic combination. For instance, a liger has a lion father and a tigress mother, such a creature only existing in captivity.
As stated before, the term 'para-human' refers to 'human-animal hybrids' as well as 'human-animal chimeras' in a vernacular sense, though the latter two concepts are not exactly the same. The term 'para-human' itself, strictly speaking, is usually not used in scientific publications but finds use in the news media as well as blogs and other such publications. The 'para-human' label is sometimes used in a sensationalist sense to refer to research that involves mixing biological materials from humans with other species, even if no true 'chimera' or 'hybrid' is ever created per se.
Issues regarding human-animal hybrids received major international attention in 2003 after some Chinese scientists at the Shanghai Second Medical University managed to successfully fuse human cells with rabbit eggs, the embryos formed reportedly being the first stable human-animal chimeras in existence. Research in similar areas continued into 2004 and 2005, with the topic picking up coverage from publications such as National Geographic News. The National Academy of Sciences soon began to look into the ethical questions involved.
The British tabloid Daily Mail ran an article in 2011 stating that than one-hundred and fifty human-animal hybrid embryos had been created in British laboratories since the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 became active; however, that reporting by the Daily Mail has received criticism in publications such as the American newspaper The Columbus Dispatch for misunderstanding the research involved.
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There are several reasons for which parahumans or chimeras might be created. The current forms of chimera exist for medical and industrial purposes, e.g., production of drugs and of organs suitable for organ transplantation. Other experiments aim to reveal knowledge about the function of the human body, e.g., by creating mice with a human-like immune system to study AIDS or with a brain incorporating human nerve cells. Restrictions on cloning and stem cell research have made chimera research an attractive alternative.
If a line of parahumans could be created using germline engineering, if they also bred true, and if they were different enough from ordinary humans to be unable to breed with us, then they would qualify as a species. Parahumans created using only somatic genetic engineering would have human children. Another key difference is that a germ-line parahuman would have to be modified before birth, while a somatic parahuman could be an adult human who chooses to be modified. Which one is more ethical is a matter of debate. An argument for the former is that no harm is done to a person born with modified genes because the person would have had no control over their genes in the first place. An argument for the latter being more ethical is that the changes would be made with informed consent.
Ethics and legal frameworks
Moral and ethical discussions
Advances in genetic engineering have caused a large amount of debates and discussion in the fields related to bioethics, and research relating to para-human entities has been no exception. The technical areas of para-human research are ongoing; the ethical, moral, and legal issues arising from actual research using chimeras also touch more speculative concerns as well. While laws against the creation of those hybrid beings have been proposed in U.S. states and in the U.S. Congress, several scientists have argued that legal barriers might go too far and prohibit medically beneficial studies into human modification.
For instance, Dr. Douglas Kniss, head of the Laboratory of PeriNatal Research at Ohio State University, has publicly remarked that formal laws aren't the best option since the "notion of animal-human hybrids is very complex." He's also argued that para-human research is inherently "not the kind of thing we support" in his kind of research since scientists should "want to respect human life".
Notable socio-economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin has expressed opposition to research that creates beings crossing species boundaries, arguing that it interferes with the fundamental 'right to exist' possessed by each animal species. Some organizations have called for international measures relating to human genetic modifications, viewing such research as leading to an ethical 'crime against humanity'.
However, some transhumanists have seen possible human-modifying technologies as one of many ways to overcome fundamental human limitations that currently cause suffering, such as disease and aging, and pointed out the many potential commercial and medical benefits from fully realized para-human experimentation. A 2005 statement issued by the World Transhumanist Association argued specifically that there "should be no penalties for adults who knowingly modify their own reproductive cells" given that it "is every parent’s obligation, and the obligation of society as a whole, to ensure that the next generation is as healthy, long-lived and able as possible."
Other ethical issues (shared with the debates about genetic engineering in general) involve the legal and moral status of a hybrid individual or race. It is uncertain whether the decision-making power over the creation of a para-human entity should lie with governments or individuals, whether a distinction should be drawn between strictly medical treatments (such as restoring lost function to injured limbs) and those enhancing humans above some "normal" standard (such as experimenting to create supersoldiers), whether medical ethics allow doctors to offer parahuman-related treatments, and whether xenotransplantation poses risks of cross-species disease transfer. The debate around para-human research can also be seen in terms of individual freedom to use germinal choice technology or reprogenetics as well.
The developmental biologist Stuart Newman applied for a patent on a human-nonhuman chimera in 1997 as a challenge to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Congress on the patentability of organisms.
In terms of U.S. law, H.R.5910.IH was a House Bill in the 110th Congress entitled Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act of 2008. Representative Chris Smith (R, NJ-4) introduced it into the House on April 24, 2008.[inconsistent] The same bill was introduced in the Senate as S.2358.IS by Sen. Sam Brownback (R, KS) into the Senate on November 15, 2007.
Parahumans in fiction
The concept of para-humans has been explored in fictional media frequently in the recent past. The genetic research is, as stated before, played in a dramatic and sensationalized fashion in media such as Hollywood films. A proiment example is the 2009 film Splice, which featured scientists mixing human and animal DNA to create a whole new creature with terrible results.
- Frankenstein argument
- Furry Fandom
- Genetic pollution
- Species dysphoria
- Johnson, Alan (November 15, 2012). "Human-animal mix might become illegal". The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
- Mott, Maryann (January 25, 2005). "Animal-Human Hybrids Spark Controversy". National Geographic News. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
- Bender, Kelli (October 7, 2013). "Chimera Animals - PawNation". PawNation. Retrieved January 22, 2015.
- Palmer, Roxanne (July 25, 2013). "Zonkey, Wholphin, Liger, Tigon: Fascinating Animal Hybrids". International Business Times. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
- "150 human animal hybrids grown in UK labs: Embryos have been produced secretively for the past three years". Daily Mail. 22 July 2011. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
- "Position on Human Germline Genetic Modification". transhumanism.org. December 24, 2005. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
- Weiss, Rick (February 13, 2005). "U.S. Denies Patent for a Too-Human Hybrid". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-04-02.
- Library of Congress http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:H.R.5910.IH:/
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- Library of Congress http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:S.2358.IS:/
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