Jewish World Review June 5, 2002 / 24 Sivan, 5762

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Consumer Reports

Of Humice and Men | According to the Los Angeles Times, about ten years ago, a medical school professor named Stuart Newman was given a challenge by a friend: "Could he think up a new form of life that would be scientifically useful and possible to patent-- yet so disturbing that the public would recoil?"

It's stories like this that make we wish I'd become a scientist. I'd show the Frankensteins of the world a thing or two: fuzzy rattlesnakes, dogs that can hop, tarantulas that can say "I love you" in five languages!

This Newman fellow, however, showed me up for the piker I am. He proposed a "humouse," part-human, part-mouse "that could be made with existing lab techniques and would help companies test for the toxic effects of new drugs."

His proposal was whimsical of course, but it has been submitted for a patent by him and his partner, the gloomy technology critic Jeremy Rifkin, even though Newman claims that has "never made a humouse and says he probably never would." So far, the patent office has not responded.

So the humouse proposal is one of those symbolic gestures. They want to push the envelope of what is permissible, bio-engineering-wise, because, as Newman puts it, "There really is no boundary on what you can do with human life. That troubles me. I think it will ultimately lead to genetically engineered human beings made for sale."

Well, it seems to me that if you think humice are bad idea, you shouldn't dream them up. And if you're dreaming them up for the sole purpose of goading a bureaucracy, well, you don't need humice to do that. Not filing a tax return, for instance, ensures a quick response from the Internal Revenue Service.

And if they don't want to see genetically engineered human beings for sale, why did they put that idea in our heads? The next time I go to the mall, I'm going to be envisioning racks of humans, marked half-off for a holiday sale (without accessories, though).

But even if I got a good price on a genetically engineered human, how would I bring one home? Will he or she fit in the trunk? Do I strap my human to the roof like a Christmas tree?

And there are larger issues. Will genetically engineered humans come with a warranty, or will that be extra? Will that include parts and labor? Come to think of it, if my human breaks, and the manufacturer will fix it free of charge, that's a pretty good deal. Sounds like my genetically engineered human will have better medical coverage than I do. Somehow, I don't think that's what Dr. Frankenstein had in mind.

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JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Ian Shoales