Conservatives push for ‘human-animal hybrid’ ban

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.