Where, when, how, and why, would you stop progress?

Science, or more correctly, scientists; keep plodding along, constantly pushing the envelope on what seems possible, plausible, and often ethical.

In 1962, surgeons at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital made history when they reattached the severed right arm of Everett “Red” Knowles. Knowles was a 12-year-old Little league right-hander who lost his arm while ‘hitching” a ride on a train. A collision with an overpass catapulted Knowles and Mass. General into medical history.

The world's first kidney transplant had been performed only eight years before, and the first heart transplant was a mere five years into the future. All these were considered by many to be bordering on the unethical...doctors playing God.

In the 51 years since that first kidney transplant, the procedure has become common place; and at least one Cimarron County resident, Dale Wiley, was the recipient of a transplanted heart. Now livers, lungs, stomachs, bone marrow and intestines have been transplanted, saving and transforming many lives. Doctors are presently considering attempting the first “face transplant.

If these medical advances aren't enough to make you consider saying: “Haven't we gone far enough?” Behold, the “chimera” is on the horizon.

In Greek Mythology, the “chimera” was a creature with a Lion's head, the body of a goat and a serpent for a tail. In the 21st Century, “chimera” is the name attached to what happens when animal and human cells or tissues are co-joined.

The most common example are those individuals with pig valves in their hearts; but it gets stranger. According to an article written by Maryann Mott for the National Geographic News on-line:

H In Shanghai, in 2003, human cells were fused with rabbit embryos; they were allowed to develop several days before their stem cells were harvested.

H In Minnesota last year, at the Mayo Clinic, there were swine with human blood flowing through their veins.

H At Stanford University, later this year, mice with human brains might be created. (They've already created mice with brains consisting of one percent human brain cells.)

One might ask, what purpose could be served by having human brains in mice? Wouldn't that make them even more difficult to deal with? We can't outsmart a mouse with a rodent's mental processes now. Why would we want them any smarter? And as my friend Hank Hagan asked, “What'll they do next cross them with cockroaches so they'll live forever?”

Canada has recently passed the “Assisted Human Reproductive Act” which prohibits transferring nonhuman cells into an embryo or putting human cells into a nonhuman embryo. The National Academy of Sciences in the United States plans to present voluntary guidelines next month.

According to the National Geographic News article by Mott; Dr. Irv Weissman, of Stanford, who is waiting until after March before perhaps creating his human brained mice, points out that he hopes the experiments could lead to a better understanding of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

In the National Geographic News article Cynthia Cohen of Canada's Stem Cell Oversight Committee, remarked that, “... the creation of “chimeras ...diminishes human dignity.”

Really?? Having watched my mother waste away with something very similar to, if not, Alzheimer's, and wondering if I was looking at my future, I couldn't disagree with Cohen more.

Diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, are the thieves of dignity.They very often imprison their victims in otherwise healthy bodies. Robbed of memories, communication skills and continence, the victims of these vicious diseases often outlive their care-givers. As for me, if we can learn anything from a smarter mouse, I say, give him the shot.

The word for the week is erudition.

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