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IEET > Security > Biosecurity > Rights > Personhood > Life > Innovation > Implants > Health > Vision > Staff > Kyle Munkittrick

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Xenotransplants Might Wipe Out the Human Race

Kyle Munkittrick
By Kyle Munkittrick
Science Not Fiction

Posted: Nov 28, 2010

But probably not!

You see, I was merely quoting Margaret Somerville, the Director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University in Canada.

In addition to thinking gay marriage is bad for the kids, Somerville really does not like transhumanists. She thinks that personhood is the “world’s most dangerous idea,” (sounds vaguely familiar) because if aliens, animals and robots have rights too, we won’t value humans anymore.

In her recent piece, calmly titled “Scary Science Could Cause Human Extinction,” Somerville makes a strange argument about organ transplants. First, she beats up on transhumanists and our support of life extension. She attempts to link life extension with genetically modified animal organ transplants. She then argues that the transplants will - get this - cause a mutant virus leading to a global pandemic obliterating humanity!

I am not joking:

[Using genetically modified pig-hybrid organs] poses a risk, not only to transplant recipients, their sexual partners, and their families, but also, possibly, to the public as a whole. An animal virus or other infective agent could be transferred to humans, with potentially tragic results - not just for the person who received the organ but for other people, who could subsequently be infected. And there might be a very remote possibility that it could wipe out the human race.

Image from K. Sandberg at Vintage Collective via Flickr
Somerville’s argument abuses the word “potentially” and its synonyms in a desperate attempt to draw a link in the reader’s mind between xenotransplants and a cataclysmic plague. Human-to-human disease transmission during transplants is extremely low, and the genetic differences between humans and animals, even hybrids, would lower the risk all the more.

The IEET’s Martine Rothblatt wrote a whole book, Your Life or Mine, addressing the fears around xenotransplantaion. In short, Somerville’s concerns about xenotransplantation are not based in science, but in bioLuddite hysteria. Somerville’s case against xenotransplantation is in terminal condition already, and things only get worse from here…


Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
Nicole Sallak Anderson is a Computer Science graduate from Purdue University. She developed encryption and network security software, which inspired the eHuman Trilogy—both eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception are available at Amazon, the third installment is expected in early 2016. She is a member of the advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.
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