Human-Nonhuman Chimeras, Ontology, and Dignity: A Constructivist Approach to the Ethics of Conducting Research on Cross-Species Hybrids

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Developments in biological technology in the last few decades highlight the surprising and ever-expanding practical benefits of stem cells. With this progress, the possibility of combining human and nonhuman organisms is a reality, with ethical boundaries that are not readily obvious. These inter-species hybrids are of a larger class of biological entities called “chimeras.” As the concept of a human-nonhuman creature is conjured in our minds, either incredulous wonder or grotesque horror is likely to follow. This paper seeks to mitigate those worries and demotivate reasonable concerns raised against chimera research, all the while pressing current ethical positions toward their plausible conclusions. In service of this overall aim, first, I intend to show that chimeras are far less foreign and fantastic in light of recent research in the lab; second, I intend to show that anti-realist (so-called “constructivist”) commitments regarding species ontology render the species distinction (i.e., the divide between human and nonhuman) superfluous as a basis for ethical practice; and third, I discuss some prevailing dignity accounts regarding the practical ethics of the creation, research, and treatment of chimeras. Consequently I intend to show that the adoption of this particular set of views (constructivist ontology, capacity-based ethics) in conjunction with recent research ought to justify a parallel with what we accord to humans persons, and that trajectory allows for cases of moral permissibility.
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