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Joseph Vining “Human Identity: The Question Presented by Human-Animal Hybridization”

December 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Vining, Joseph 2008. Human Identity: The Question Presented by Human-Animal Hybridization. Stanford Journal of Animal Law & Policy: 50-68.

It is ultimately in law, and not anywhere else, that we meet to decide what we can do to each other or indeed to other creatures. (51)

[…] “animals” as such have been patentable in the United States ever since the Supreme Court ruled that an oil-eating bacterium was patentable. (52)

[…] “genetic analysis to help work out the biochemical pathways underlying memory and clear thinking . . . [O]nly by reducing the differences in human beings will we ever have a society in which we can effectively view all individuals as truly equal.” (55 – James D. Watson)

The idea of a being as somehow less than human speaks directly to the way we treat and have treated animals, our doing to them what we say we would not do to a fellow human being, in the infliction of pain, suffering, death, even clear torture. But the phrase “less than fully human” also speaks to treatment of those who would otherwise  be considered simply fellow “human beings”: historically, and even today, lines based on age or gender as well as race or ethnicity have been drawn between the fully human and the not fully human. (56)

In our present usage, including scientific usage, what makes a species a “species,” what gives an individual being a generic name beyond Joe or Whiskers, is not only an individual’s ability to reproduce something like itself, but an inability to reproduce something that does not look like itself, whatever the variations of detail upon which natural selection might work. The species boundary is determined, whenever there is sexual  reproduction, by an inability to breed. (63)

But as we know there are vast differences today between the way we treat flesh we identify as human and all other flesh, differences that have as their poles love at one end and confinement and torture at the other—the horrors of the factory farm, the testing laboratory, and, it  must be said, what can happen in the university research laboratory. These we justify in utilitarian terms. Human identity is not only an intellectual, aesthetic, or religious matter. Companionship and delight for us may be there beyond human identity, but horror and extermination lie beyond it in much greater measure. (63-64)