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 that was hard to define, 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.
The magazine H+ have defined para-humans generally as "genetic alterations that are blendings of animal and human forms". Such a creature is also sometimes referred to as a humanized animal. 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').
The creation of genetically modified organisms for a multitude of purposes has taken place in the modern world for decades, examples being specifically designed foodstuffs made to have features such as higher crop yields through better disease resistance. 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 domesticated 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. Examples include Splice, a 2009 movie about experimental genetic research, and The Fly, a 1986 horror film depicting teleportation experiments going awry.
Defining human-animal hybrids and chimeras
A chimera more generally is a being composed of two or more genetically distinct cell lines. 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.
For much of modern history, the creation of genetically modified organisms in general was a topic rooted in science fiction rather than practical research. This has changed significantly over the past few decades such that a number of plants and animals are commonly subject to genetic engineering for commercial purposes. For example, as of 2013 about 85% of the corn grown in the U.S. as well as about 90% of its canola crops have been genetically modified. As well, many Americans that have had cardiovascular surgery have had heart valves initially from pigs used in their procedures.
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.
There are several reasons for which parahumans or chimeras might be created, including medical and industrial purposes (e.g., the production of drugs and organs suitable for organ transplantation) or 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).
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 creation 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. Rifkin has also stated that a situation akin to Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World could arise if scientific safeguards do not exist. Some organizations have called for international measures to be set up relating to human genetic modifications, viewing such research as an ethical 'crime against humanity'.
President George W. Bush brought up the topic in his 2006 State of the Union Address, in which he called for the prohibition of "human cloning in all its forms", "creating or implanting embryos for experiments", "creating human-animal hybrids", and also "buying, selling, or patenting human embryos". He argued, "A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners and that recognize the matchless value of every life." He also stated that humanity "should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale."
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."
The question of what line exists between a 'human' being and a 'non-human' being has been a difficult one for many scientists to answer. While animals with something like one percent or less of their cells originally coming from humans may clearly appear to be in the same boat as other animals, no consensus exists on how to think about beings in a genetic middle ground that have something like an even mix. "I don't think anyone knows in terms of crude percentages how to differentiate between humans and nonhumans," U.S. patent office official John Doll has remarked.
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.
In the U.S., efforts into creating a para-human entity appeared to be legal when the topic first came up. The developmental biologist Stuart Newman, known for being a professor at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y., 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, taking on the fight given his moral and scientific opposition to the notion that living things can be patented. Prior precedent had established that genetically engineered entities in general could be patented, even if they were based on beings occurring in nature.
After a seven-year process, Newman's para-human patent finally received a flat rejection. The legal process had created a paper trail of arguments put on the record, giving Newman what he considered a victory. The Washington Post ran an article on the controversy that stated that it was raising "profound questions about the differences-- and similarities-- between humans and other animals, and the limits of treating animals as property."
A 2005 appropriations bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush contained specific wording banning any patents on humans or human embryos. As stated before, President Bush condemned the possible creation of para-humans in his 2006 State of the Union Address while also criticizing human cloning.
In terms of outright bans on para-human research, a measure came up in the 110th Congress entitled the Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act of 2008. Representative Chris Smith (R, NJ-4) introduced it on April 24, 2008. The text of the proposed act stated that "human dignity and the integrity of the human species are compromised" if such hybrids exist and set up a punishment of imprisonment for up to than ten years as well as a fine of over one million dollars. Though attracting support from many co-sponsors such as then Representatives Mary Fallin, Duncan Hunter, Joseph R. Pitts, and Rick Renzi among others, the Act failed to get through Congress.
A related proposal came up in the U.S. Senate the prior year, the Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act of 2007, and it also failed. That effort was proposed by then Senator Sam Brownback (R, KS) on November 15, 2007. Featuring the same language as the later measure in the House, its bipartisan group of cosponsors included then Senators Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, and Mary Landrieu.
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 prominent example is the 2009 film Splice, which featured scientists mixing human and animal DNA to create a whole new creature with terrible results.
As well, the famous 1986 horror film The Fly features a deformed and monstrous para-human, played by actor Jeff Goldblum. His character, scientist Seth Brundle, undergoes a teleportation experiment that goes awry and fuses him at a fundamental genetic level with a common fly caught besides him. Brundle experiences drastic mutations as a result that horrify him. Seminal movie critic Gerardo Valero has written that the work, "released at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic", "was seen by many as a metaphor for the disease" while also playing on bodily fears about dismemberment and coming apart that human beings inherently share.
- Genetically modified organism
- Human enhancement
- Species dysphoria
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