General Question

GeorgeGee's avatar

If mice are given human DNA, does it become a problem to kill them?

Asked by GeorgeGee (4895 points ) October 30th, 2010

You’ve probably seen the picture of the mouse with a human ear growing on its back. When we tinker with the mouse DNA so that it is part human, with a human blood type, and a human liver growing inside it, or even a human brain eventually… at what point should people feel a moral quandary when killing them? It’s not just hypothetical.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1949073.stm

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

29 Answers

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
GeorgeGee's avatar

yes, it’s weird science and getting weirder every day.

crisw's avatar

These modifications aren’t increasing the sentience of the mice, therefore I don’t think it affects the morality of killing them (and yes, I do believe it’s a moral issue). Human DNA alone doesn’t make their lives more or less valuable.

JLeslie's avatar

I think it is awful to grow a human ear on a mouse, it crosses the line for me. I feel like if I think about it hard enough you can’t kill any animal. All living things have the same basic genetic material, it is just a matter of sequencing, even plants, ATCG.

gasman's avatar

Is there a moral dilemma with removing a diseased gallbladder and incinerating it? It, too, is human tissue with human DNA. How about plucking your eyebrows and removing a live hair follicle—oh, the humanity!

Some day it might be possible to clone a baby from adult skin cells. Will that make removing skin cancer tantamount to murder?

Get real.

Sandman's avatar

Well, ask yourself, was it moral to implant the human genes in the first place? I mean that is in itself a morally questionable act, in the eyes of many.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I agree that growing a human ear on the mouse in the first place was screwed up.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Does this mean I can grow an elephant schlong?

ragingloli's avatar

Historically, Humans have had no qualms about killing and oppressing even members of their own species. Recognising their equality is a slow process against the stream of society. Even today, not all members of your species are considered equal.
When you become able to create life forms that look and think similar to humans, but are not quite there yet, the galactic council predicts that you will enter a new prolongued period of slavery.

mammal's avatar

the mouse option, opens up certain artistic possibilities too, imagine a living breathing Picasso, or a minotaur, or such like.

LostInParadise's avatar

This problem is just the tip of the iceberg. What happens when we create designer species from scratch or combine electronic and biological components. And what happens when we impart varying degrees of intelligence to these creations. It may take a while to get to this point, but there are many questions raised. What does it mean to be human and what does it even mean to be natural?

Pepshort's avatar

Fascinating question. I think the answer depends upon what we would describe as the essence of a human being, without which one could no longer be considered human. For example, a human without an ear (or ears) remains a human being; therefore, grafting or growing a human ear on a mouse would not create ‘Mickey Mouse’ :) Is sentience the determinant factor, as Crisw (above) suggests? Only if we accept the anthropologic view of humans as ‘homo sapiens’ – intelligent hominoids. From my perspective, the uniqueness of a human is our soul—a permanent, eternal, spiritual entity that transcends physicality. Duplicate that, Mr. Mad Science….and then, you’re on the way to creating a human being. Without a soul, the rest is just window dressing.

gasman's avatar

I think it is immoral to destroy a human mind. Other biological death is OK. For me this is the more-or-less sharply drawn line between the destruction of human tissue versus murder. So this particular issue is—forgive the pun—a no-brainer.

crisw's avatar

@Pepshort

By “sentience,” I do not mean intelligence. I mean the ability to sense pain and pleasure, to have preferences and to have a life that can go better or worse for the being involved.

Souls cannot be scientifically validated. We cannot base rights possession on having or not having a soul, as we can’t show beyond a reasonable doubt that any entity does or does not have one. We can demonstrate that a particular being can sense pain or pleasure and that it has preferences.

Pepshort's avatar

@crisw Your definition of sentience is applicable to all mammals. What distinguishes human beings, then, from other mammals?

Furthermore, while it’s true that the existence of a soul can’t be scientifically validated, scientific validation isn’t the only criteria we use to make important decisions on a personal or societal level. I assume, for example, that you would agree with the statement found in the U.S. Constitution that ‘all men are created equal.’ How do we know that to be true? The authors of the Constitution say it is ‘self-evident.’ Many things can be shown to be true ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ (your words), without invoking scientific validation

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@gasman ”...it is immoral to destroy a human mind”

You must first demonstrate that a human mind exists, before you can claim it is destroyable. Where is this “mind” you speak of? Do thoughts spill out upon the floor during brain surgery? Can we hold it? Is there an instrument which can detect it? I’m not saying here whether I believe in a mind or not… mind you. I’m simply asking for emperical verification that one actually exists.

gasman's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Granted sometimes it’s a fuzzy distinction leading to moral uncertainty—and let’s not talk about “minds” of chimps, dolphins, elephants, or newborn babies. (See Douglas Hofstadter’s Hunecker scale for measuring “soul level”.) No, you can’t hold the mind as an autonomous entity, but it’s clearly a manifestation of the physical brain. It’s usually not equivocal whether a human mind exists or not & you seem to agree that, concerning a human ear grafted to a mouse, a mind is nowhere to be found.

My point was that human-ness of tissue per se does not raise moral qualms. I’m not opposed, for example, to destroying human embryos (not embark on a whole new discussion here…), because they fail the criterion that I’m suggesting as a test.

crisw's avatar

@Pepshort

“Your definition of sentience is applicable to all mammals. ”

Yes, it is. And I believe that all mammals have some basic rights, such as the right not to bve treated as the means to an end and the right not to be killed unless it is necessary to avert a greater harm.

“What distinguishes human beings, then, from other mammals?”

It depends on what we are talking about. I explained here about my feelings on pain and death regarding humans versus other animals.

There is no hard line separating us and other animals.

As far as souls go, I stand by what I said. We cannot base anything on whether or not someone or something has a soul as we cannot see it, cannot define it, cannot test it, cannot prove it. We can only take someone’s word for it- and how do we have any way of knowing, them, who is right- the Christian who believes that only humans have souls or the pantheist who believes that everything does?

As far as “the statement found in the U.S. Constitution that ‘all men are created equal”- it’s a rhetorical statement that the founders didn’t really believe themselves. Black men were not equals, women where not equals, and so on.

From a rights-based perspective, all humans are equal because all who have inherent value have it equally. As Tom Regan wrote -“Suppose we consider that you and I, for example, do have value as individuals — what we’ll call inherent value. To say we have such value is to say that we are something more than, something different from, mere receptacles. Moreover, to ensure that we do not pave the way for such injustices as slavery or sexual discrimination, we must believe that all who have inherent value have it equally, regardless of their sex, race, religion, birthplace and so on. Similarly to be discarded as irrelevant are one’s talents or skills, intelligence and wealth, personality or pathology, whether one is loved and admired or despised and loathed. The genius and the retarded child, the prince and the pauper, the brain surgeon and the fruit vendor, Mother Teresa and the most unscrupulous used-car salesman — all have inherent value, all possess it equally, and all have an equal right to be treated with respect, to be treated in ways that do not reduce them to the status of things, as if they existed as resources for others. My value as an individual is independent of my usefulness to you. Yours is not dependent on your usefulness to me. For either of us to treat the other in ways that fail to show respect for the other’s independent value is to act immorally, to violate the individual’s rights.”

GeorgeGee's avatar

While you’re at it, despite human arrogance that assumes mammals must be inherently superior, the Octopus, a lowly mollusk with copper-based blood like Mr. Spock has demonstrated cognitive abilities well beyond many mammals.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WD0-4MVN04V-1&_user=10&_coverDate=03%2F31%2F2008&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_origin=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=bfb6566e3ddc4c4ddbd6de94e3726ae2&searchtype=a

crisw's avatar

@GeorgeGee

Have you checked out New Caledonian crows? So much for birdbrains.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@gasman ”...Hunecker scale for measuring “soul level”

Eeegaahds! Shall I now believe in a “soul” before we’ve even detected or demonstrated a mind?

”...you can’t hold the mind as an autonomous entity, but it’s clearly a manifestation of the physical brain…”

Clearly? And all this time I thought the physical brain was the manifestation of a mind… Who knew?

”...It’s usually not equivocal whether a human mind exists or not & you seem to agree that…”

Yes, I do agree with the statement that it’s “usually not equivocal”. I’d just like to see one demonstrated.

”...concerning a human ear grafted to a mouse, a mind is nowhere to be found….”

I’m not so sure. There is a code which clearly states, “human ear”. I suppose that code is attributable to some type of mind, wherever it may be found, and even if it can’t be found.

”...human-ness of tissue per se does not raise moral qualms…”

I agree. “Parts Is Parts”

”...I’m not opposed, for example, to destroying human embryos…”

I am. Because it’s human… not parts.
though I would never dream of stopping anyone from destroying human embryos. to each their own

”...because they fail the criterion that I’m suggesting as a test.”

Did I miss something? I thought you said… ”...I think it is immoral to destroy a human mind.” I thought embryos were the way “a human mind” got started. So I guess it’s appropriate to ask, when do you believe a human embryo is capable of embodying a human mind?remembering of course, that typically, we can’t even prove that a human mind exists?

AdamF's avatar

Just to clarify, there is no such thing as human DNA. DNA is DNA is DNA.. Mice and humans already overlap extensively in what matters, genes (around 85% similarity). But admitedly, its the subtle differences that add up to create a mouse versus a human.

Anyways, I think as with all morality issues involving lab species, I see no way around this other than a cost benefit assessment of weighing up the capacity of the organism to experience unavoidable suffering, their degree of sentience, and the expected benefits of the research for humanity. That’s the cold calculation of medical experimentation.

The addition of some nucleic acids in the main example (ear formation) doesn’t change this ratio just because the nucleic acids came from a human.

Frankly, we don’t need to go down the route of adding “human DNA” to a mouse. Work in the opposite direction…we’re only 6 million years removed from a common ancestor with chimps and bonobos. They are already for the most part composed of the same genes as us. And yet we conduct medical experiments on chimps and other great apes….and people are justifiably challenging it….not I might add simply because of the DNA (DNA doesn’t suffer)...but because of the capacity of highly intellgient/sentient organisms to suffer and have an awareness of likely future suffering, and likely also be aware of the suffering of friends and family.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Ape_Project

Pepshort's avatar

@crisw You wrote: “And I believe that all mammals have some basic rights, such as the right not to bve treated as the means to an end and the right not to be killed unless it is necessary to avert a greater harm.”

Your words imply that you believe that mammals should not be used for servile labor, not killed for food, not used for medical experimentation, nor their hide used for clothing. Is that an accurate inference? If the answer is yes, do you personally refrain from consuming or using animal products?

You said “There is no hard line separating us and other animals” If both your family pet and a stranger were drowning, and you could save only one, which would you choose, and why?

mattbrowne's avatar

No, as long as they are not given the DNA of the human brain.

crisw's avatar

@Pepshort

“Your words imply that you believe that mammals should not be used for servile labor, not killed for food, not used for medical experimentation, nor their hide used for clothing. Is that an accurate inference?”

Partially. As I have mentioned, I feel that it’s immoral to harm a sentient being unless that harm is needed to avert an equal or greater harm. Some uses of animals do not harm the animals- for example, service dogs and pack horses may love their work. Other harms can sometimes be justified by the “greater harm” rule, such as killing an animal when you are starving and some medical experimentation. But, in any case where harm is caused, it must be the only way to avert equal or greater harm, and the least harm possible must be caused to avert the greater or equal harm.

“If the answer is yes, do you personally refrain from consuming or using animal products?”

I will answer this, but the best answer is that my answer doesn’t matter. An ethic can never be judged simply by the actions of those who espouse it; to do so is an ad hominem attack. An ethic must be judged solely on its own. However, as I do try to live by my convictions; yes; I am a vegetarian.

You are attacking my position by presenting lifeboat cases which are never the best way to judge an ethic. One must do so based on its daily implications, not exceptional cases. You seem to have side-stepped the problems I pointed out with your stance to focus of looking for any way to attack mine.

crisw's avatar

@Pepshort

Had to hurry my last response as I was on my way to work. I wanted to expound more on the “person vs. dog” argument and why it shows that the line between human and other animal is gray and blurry.

There are certainly cases where most people would choose the human. But there are also cases where most people would choose the dog. What if the choice were between a young search and rescue dog who had already saved dozens of lives and a condemned mass murderer? Between a service dog that someone depended on for daily living and Osama bin Laden?

In addition, as I have mentioned, there is a difference between the harm that death is and the harm that pain is. Let’s say that you have a choice between causing five minutes of uncomfortable but not unbearable pain to a normal adult human and a baby. Most people would feel it’s worse to harm the baby because you can tell the adult human “It’s just five minutes and it won’t be so bad. Then it will be over.” You cannot explain this to the baby. However, the exact same is true if the choice is between a normal adult human and a dog. Therefore, the moral choice is to harm the human rather than the dog.

There is no one morally relevant characteristic that all humans share and all animals lack. There is no great dividing line. And an ethic that encompasses all is more rational and more humane than one that draws a line in the sand simply around those that happen to be Homo sapiens.

AdamF's avatar

Nice answers crisw

Pepshort's avatar

@crisw You said: “You are attacking my position by presenting lifeboat cases which are never the best way to judge an ethic. One must do so based on its daily implications, not exceptional cases”

I respectfully disagree. When case law determines unusual and extreme situations (‘lifeboat cases’), it establishes the parameters within which we can know how to act in daily situations. That’s the basis of jurisprudence—and, I would suggest, a workable system of ethics.

You said: “Other harms can sometimes be justified by the “greater harm” rule, such as killing an animal when you are starving and some medical experimentation.”

Your answer leads me to infer you believe that taking the life of an animal for the sake of a hamburger, chicken wing or filet of trout is immoral. And what of a tomato? Plant life differs in many ways from that of animal life—but it is still ‘life’.

Finally, you said: “What if the choice were between a young search and rescue dog who had already saved dozens of lives and a condemned mass murderer? Between a service dog that someone depended on for daily living and Osama bin Laden?”

It is not that the life of a service dog has greater value than those of condemned mass murderers and Osama bin Laden; rather, the lives of condemned murderers have NO value, given that they’re condemned to die. A more useful comparison, therefore, would be of a service dog and a murderer convicted to life imprisonment. Would you save the life of the felon, or of the dog?

crisw's avatar

@Pepshort

“When case law determines”...

There is a huge difference between what is legal and what is ethical, and the two are in no way equivalent. Many immoral things are legal, and many illegal things are moral.

“Your answer leads me to infer you believe that taking the life of an animal for the sake of a hamburger, chicken wing or filet of trout is immoral”

That is correct.

“And what of a tomato? Plant life differs in many ways from that of animal life—but it is still ‘life’.”

If you’ve truly read anything I have written in this conversation, you will see that I base rights on sentiency. Plants are not sentient. Statements like this make me think that you aren’t really trying to read or comprehend or discuss what I have written; that you may just be looking to poke holes because of your intense disagreement.

“Would you save the life of the felon, or of the dog?”

The dog. This can get into a far more complicated discussion involving freedom to choose and consequences of choices, but I would choose the dog because the dog is an innocent in this case and the human is not. The point; however, remains. You were attempting to paint a strict dividing line between humans and other animals. I pointed out that the line is in reality very fuzzy. You haven’t presented anything to dispute the original contention.

Answer this question

Login

or

Join

to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
or
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther