If animal-human hybrids sound like the premise of a Michael Bay blockbuster, it may surprise you to learn that these creatures, called “chimeras,” already exist in the United States. The chimeras that exist, however, aren’t exactly a human with a rhinoceros’ head: These microscopic organisms are created by biomedical scientists for disease treatment research. Sounds pretty cool, right? Not to some.
Kansans for Life, the leading Kansas anti-abortion group, is so curious to know how legislative candidates in the state feel about these hybrids that a recent questionnaire from its political action committee specifically asked, “Would you oppose creating human-animal hybrids (chimeras)?” At first blush, this doesn’t seem like a pertinent question for a pro-life advocacy group. But the group says it’s a deciding factor for whether or not a candidate gets its coveted endorsement.
“We would not endorse them [if they aren’t opposed],” Mary Kay Culp, state executive director of Kansas for Life, told me in a phone call on Friday. Chimeras are formed by implanting human embryonic stem cells into animal embryos, and Culp explained that if a candidate supports their creation, there’s no telling how else they’d use embryonic stem cells.
“If they think that the human embryo is something that should be exploited or killed, then they have all kinds of ideas that they’d want to do,” Culp said. “And if you believe human beings are deserving of respect, no matter what stage of development, then you don’t think they should be allowed to do that, especially when it comes to being bred with animal DNA.”
By “all kinds of ideas,” she partly means human cloning, another hot-button issue for KFL. Also among the group’s chief concerns, according to the KFL website, is that “It could produce an animal with a human brain.” While that sounds pretty rad to me, it has KFL legitimately concerned.
Other questions on the questionnaire pertain to issues that are more obviously in the group’s purview, like if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade and left the decision to the states, what would their position be? KFL is also curious if a candidate would support an option for parents to “opt in” for sexual education in schools for their children. And perhaps most controversial, the questionnaire asks, “Would you support a bill to allow for the collection of data by the State (with the appropriate privacy protections) as to 'fertility' related procedures, including the number of embryos created, implanted, destroyed, selectively reduced and retained?”
Culp assures that any personal data collected about residents’ IVF procedures would be kept private—however, many would surely object to the government gaining access to such intimate information.
To be fair, the people at KFL are not the only ones who find the idea of animal-human hybrids problematic. In September of last year, the National Institutes of Health released a memo announcing it would not be providing any funding for projects “in which human pluripotent cells are introduced into non-human vertebrate animal pre-gastrulation stage embryos.” In other words, chimeras. This decision has forced researchers to seek alternative funding.
In the memo, the NIH writes that it “would like to undertake a deliberative process to evaluate the state of the science in this area, the ethical issues that should be considered, and the relevant animal welfare concerns associated with these types of studies.”
Now researchers are looking for answers from the NIH about when the evaluation will be complete. Pablo Ross, a reproductive biologist at the University of California, Davis, assured NPR this week that chimeras aren’t being made “just because we want to see some kind of monstrous creature. We're doing this for a biomedical purpose."
But the KSL feels differently. And why wouldn’t they? Their mission is to have control over all embryos everywhere—whether they’re in a woman’s uterus or in a science lab makes little difference.
Marisa Kabas is a Sex + Life reporter based in New York City. She loves baseball, bunnies and bagels.