A soft drink commercial that features a strange chimeric creature called the PuppyMonkeyBaby (a beast that combines human baby legs, a monkey body and a pug dog’s head) premiered during Super Bowl 50. The weird dog-monkey-baby animal is supposed to represent the “awesome” combo of Mountain Dew, juice and caffeine, but many people call it “creepy “, “scary” and just downright “disturbing “. There are even calls for it to never be shown again. As far as many, perhaps most, people are concerned, the idea of a dog-monkey-baby makes for one horrifying creation. How come?
The answer would seem to lie with the fact that we implicitly recognize that such a chimera would never exist in nature and represents something unnatural, even monstrous. A PuppyMonkeyBaby is just not “meant to be.”
Chimeras: a life of confinement, exploitation and invasive procedures that invariably ends in death.
But chimeras (genetic mixtures of different types of animals) like these are not just advertising gimmicks; they are already being created on a routine basis in laboratories around the globe. For example, there’s the MouseHuman: mice who have had some of their brain cells replaced with human brain cells, and who, as a result, have better memories and learning abilities. And the PigHuman: pigs with human hearts that can be “harvested ” and implanted in human beings. And the SpiderGoat: goats who have been engineered to secrete spider’s silk in their milk. (Silk is useful for a variety of applications in materials science and medicine, and it’s hard to get spiders to make enough of it.)
These victims of genetic technology are touted as “living laboratories” in whom human researchers can manipulate the very nature of other living beings for medical and scientific “progress “. While the Mountain Dew commercial shows PuppyMonkeyBaby dancing down a hallway at the end, nothing like this happens to the real chimeras. Instead they are subjected to a life of confinement, exploitation and invasive procedures that invariably ends in death.
Most of the “ethical ” questions or objections to this kind of research focus on the potential risk to humans, like concerns over whether any genetically engineered animals will get into our food supply or cause some kind of out-of-control disease. Little ink is spilled over the moral dimensions of creating and using those sentient beings themselves. Yet genetic engineering of animals comes at a high price. Many of the embryos that undergo genetic engineering procedures do not survive, and of those that do survive only a small proportion (often as few as one out of a hundred) carry the genetic alteration of interest.
This means that increasingly larger numbers of genetically modified animals are being produced, manipulated and killed than ever before. Their cloned offspring often suffer devastating health effects, such as under-developed organs, skeletal and weight abnormalities, and a vastly shortened lifespan.
Beyond the obvious health and welfare problems suffered by these animals, using them in such an egregiously invasive way violates any reasonable arguments for fairness in human-nonhuman relationships and erodes their standing as sentient individuals with a basic right not to be turned into something artificial. (A recent review of these issues can be found here.)
But rather than giving thought to any of these considerations, it is “full speed ahead” for these new genetic techniques. And when government steps in to limit funding for these highly questionable projects, the new bioengineers simply head to the private sector, where funding for these new creations is to be had at every turn.
PuppyMonkeyBabies aren’t just TV commercial fantasies any longer. Animal chimeras are being produced in laboratories all over the world. We need to take every opportunity to voice our concerns and opposition to such monstrous activities. If we don’t do it, no one will.