ON THURSDAY, OCTOBER 5, it was revealed that biotechnology researchers had successfully created a hybrid of a human being and a pig. A man-pig. A pig-man. The reality is so unspeakable, the words themselves don't want to go together.
Extracting the nuclei of cells from a human fetus and inserting them into a pig's egg cells, scientists from an Australian company called Stem Cell Sciences and an American company called Biotransplant grew two of the pig-men to 32-cell embryos before destroying them. The embryos would have grown further, the scientists admitted, if they had been implanted in the womb of either a sow or a woman. Either a sow or a woman. A woman or a sow.
There has been some suggestion from the creators that their purpose in designing this human pig is to build a new race of subhuman creatures for scientific and medical use. The only intended use is to make animals, the head of Stem Cell Sciences, Peter Mountford, claimed last week, backpedaling furiously once news of the pig-man leaked out of the European Union's patent office. Since the creatures are 3 percent pig, laws against the use of people as research subjects would not apply. But since they are 97 percent human, experiments could be profitably undertaken upon them and they could be used as living meat-lockers for transplantable organs and tissue.
But then, too, there has been some suggestion that the creators' purpose is not so much to corrupt humanity as to elevate it. The creation of the pig-man is proof that we can overcome the genetic barriers that once prevented cross-breeding between humans and other species. At last, then, we may begin to design a new race of beings with perfections that the mere human species lacks: increased strength, enhanced beauty, extended range of life, immunity from disease. "In the extreme theoretical sense," Mountford admitted, the embryos could have been implanted into a woman to become a new kind of human -- though, of course, he reassured the Australian media, something like that would be "ethically immoral, and it's not something that our company or any respectable scientist would pursue."
But what difference does it make whether the researchers' intention is to create subhumans or superhumans? Either they want to make a race of slaves, or they want to make a race of masters. And either way, it means the end of our humanity.
You can't say we weren't warned. This is the island of Dr. Moreau. This is the brave new world. This is Dr. Frankenstein's chamber. This is Dr. Jekyll's room. This is Satan's Pandemonium, the city of self-destruction the rebel angels wrought in their all-consuming pride.
But now that it has actually come -- manifest, inescapable, real -- there don't seem to be words that can describe its horror sufficiently to halt it. May God have mercy on us, for our modern Dr. Moreaus -- our proud biotechnicians, our most advanced genetic scientists -- have already announced that they will have no mercy.
It's true that Stem Cell Sciences and Biotransplant have now, under the weight of adverse publicity, decided to withdraw their European patent application and modify their American application. But they made no promise to stop their investigations into the procedure. We simply have to rely upon their sense of what is, as Mountford put it, "ethically immoral" -- a sense sufficiently attenuated that they could undertake the design of the pig-man in the first place. The elimination of the human race has loomed into clear sight at last.
It used to be that even the imagination of this sort of thing existed only to underscore a moral in a story. When our ancestors heard of Vlad the Impaler's wife bathing in the blood of slaughtered virgins to keep herself beautiful, they were certain it was a bad thing. When they were told fairy tales of an old crone fattening children to suck the health from them, they knew which side they were supposed to take. When they read of Dorian Gray's purchase of eternal youth, they understood that the price he paid was his soul.
But we live at a moment in which British newspapers can report on 19 families who have created test-tube babies solely for the purpose of serving as tissue donors for their relatives -- some brought to birth, some merely harvested as embryos and fetuses. A moment in which Harper's Bazaar can advise women to keep their faces unwrinkled by having themselves injected with fat culled from human cadavers. A moment in which the Australian philosopher Peter Singer can receive a chair at Princeton University for advocating the destruction of infants after birth if their lives are likely to be a burden. A moment in which the brains of late-term aborted babies can be vacuumed out and gleaned for stem cells.
In the midst of all this, the creation of a human-pig arrives like a thing expected. We have reached the logical end, at last. We have become the people that, once upon a time, our ancestors used fairy tales to warn their children against -- and we will reap exactly the consequences those tales foretold.
Like the coming true of an old story -- the discovery of the philosopher's stone, the rubbing of a magic lantern -- biotechnology is delivering the most astonishing medical advances anyone has ever imagined. You and I will live for many years in youthful health: Our cancers, our senilities, our coughs, and our infirmities all swept away on the triumphant, cresting wave of science.
But our sons and our daughters will mate with the pig-men, if the pig-men will have them. And our swine-snouted grandchildren -- the fruit not of our loins, but of our arrogance and our bright test tubes -- will use the story of our generation to teach a moral to their frightened litters.
J. Bottum is Books & Arts editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.