Should a human-pig chimera be treated as a person?
Savulescu (Julian)
Source: Aeon, 14 July, 2016
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Conclusion

  1. Any human-pig chimera1 should, then, be assessed against the criteria of personhood. This is by no means straightforward. Just to give one example, if synthetic biology creates a network of neurons in vitro, this would raise the question of whether it could become conscious, how we would know if it did, and then the further question of how it should be treated.
  2. In the absence of conclusive research on these questions, any such chimera2 should be accorded the highest moral status consistent with its likely nature.
    1. If there is a chance a new lifeform could experience pain or might not be able to interact socially, and we don’t know, it should be treated as if it does experience pain and will have problems of social adaptation.
    2. Likewise, if it could plausibly have higher cognitive functions, it should be treated as if it would have them.
  3. In considering the new life forms we create, we should err on the side of sympathy and generosity.

  1. This paper starts by considering the use of pigs to harvest human organs, using stem cells and a gene-editing technique called CRISPR (see Wikipedia: CRISPR).
  2. The term “chimera”3 is rather loaded, as it implies a monster – see Wikipedia: Chimera – yet the article posits that mules (Wikipedia: Mule, the off-spring of a male donkey and a female horse) are chimeras4 as the parents are of different species with different numbers of chromosomes.
  3. The neurological angle comes from research into the production of neurons for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
  4. I agree with the author’s conclusion that – where we have reason to suspect it – we should assume sentience and social needs rather than await proof – could it ever be provided. This applies to non-chimeras5 as well. However, I doubt this cautious approach should be applied to cultures of neural tissue6.
  5. See "Ishiguro (Kazuo) - Never Let Me Go" for the analogous case where human clones7 are posited as being raised as the source of transplant8 organs.
  6. As for the article’s tendentious title, human-pig chimeras9 should only be considered persons if they possess (or may reasonably or prudentially be supposed to possess) the attributes of persons10, not just because they contain human genetic material.


For the full text, see Aeon: Savulescu - Should a human-pig chimera be treated as a person?.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 6:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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