On Thursday Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives a bill that would ban the creation, transfer, or transportation of part-human, part-animal hybrids.
While there are many ethical objections to the creation of human-animal hybrids, additional concerns about disease transmission and environmental effects are also being increasingly considered.
Researchers are presently perfecting hybrid embryo creation techniques, in which genetic material from humans and animals are combined in a single embryo. The BBC recently reported that scientists at Newcastle University successfully created part-human, part-animal hybrids for the first time in the United Kingdom.
The bill presents several scenarios where the creation of human-animal hybrids would be forbidden. The law would ban introducing animal cells into a human embryo, which the bill says “makes its humanity uncertain.” It would ban fertilizing a human egg with non-human sperm and fertilizing an animal egg with human sperm. Likewise, it would forbid creating an embryo both by introducing a non-human nucleus into a human egg and by introducing a human nucleus into a non-human egg.
The law would forbid the creation of an embryo that contains a mixed set of chromosomes from both a human and an animal. Further, it bans the creation of animals with human reproductive organs or with a “whole or predominantly human” brain.
While the bill will likely be of interest to pro-life advocates, the bill could be relevant to public health and environmental debates as well.
A brief for the bill claims that the world has recently experienced an increase in health-threatening infections emerging from animal populations. “Human-animal hybrids present an optimal opportunity for genetic transfer that could increase the risk for transmission of both human and animal diseases, such as Bird Flu and SARS," the brief said.
Genetically modified hybrids could also have a devastating effect on the natural environments of animal populations. The introduction of human genes into animals, some claim, could lead to hybrids with superior abilities who could out-compete the natural animal population. This could cause serious problems for ecosystems worldwide.