“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The proper study of mankind is Man.”
-wrote the 18th century poet, Alexander Pope, in his philosophical poem, ‘The Essay on Man’.
In this poem, Pope suggested that the position of Man in this world ‘is at a middle stage between the angels and the beasts’. In his view there was a clear division between ‘higher beings’, humans, and beasts- animals.
I wonder what Alexander Pope would have thought today, when these sharp divisions are being blurred- at least those between humans and animals.
Britain’s Academy of Medical Sciences has just launched a study on what it means to be human.
It intends ‘to look at the use of animals containing human material in scientific research’. The study expects to establish some guidelines regarding putting human genes into animals used for experiments. The question is- can these animals, into whose bodies human material has been ‘added’, be considered partially human?
‘”Do these constructs challenge our idea of what it is to be human?” said Martin Bobrow, a professor of medical genetics at Cambridge University and chair of a 14-member group looking into the issue.’
There was an great uproar, last year, when the British Parliament passed a law to allow the creation of human-animal embryos.
Scientists are keen to avoid such hysterical debates, and hence this study.
The million-dollar question is, what is the limit for introducing human elements into animals?
‘Bobrow said there was a “sort of understanding” within the scientific community that “as you get close to 50/50 mix” of human and animal material, the boundaries are near.‘
“Do most of us care if we make a mouse whose blood cells or liver are human? Probably not,” he said. “But if it can speak? If it can think? Or if it is conscious in a human way? Then we’re in a completely different ballpark.”
What’s your opinion?
What does it mean to be Human?