Ethical and Social Issues in the Genetic
Engineering of Animals
by Bernard E. Rollin
New York: Cambridge U. Press, 1995
by Richard T. Hull, Ph.D.
Frankenstein as Archetype of the
There are over 145 editions of Mary Shelley’s novel.
There are over 2,500 novels, translations,
adaptations, stories, critical works, popular articles,
series, fumetti, verse, stage plays, films, cartoons,
satire and humor, spoken and musical recordings,
tapes and sheet music featuring Frankenstein’s
monster and/or descended from Shelley’s novel.
Science is blamed for pollution, for failing to conquer
disease, for cavalier treatment of human and animal
research subjects, and public confidence in science is
on the wane.
Differing Popular Conceptions of the
Genetic Engineering of Animals
Dr. Frankenstein created new life with (potentially)
Therefore, genetic engineering is well represented by
the Frankenstein story, and should be banned.
Without genetic engineering, we won’t be able to keep
our competitive edge against the Japanese.
Therefore, genetic engineering should be unrestricted.
What is the case
The genetic engineering of animals cannot be stopped
it is too simple and relatively inexpensive. Were it
banned here, it would be moved to a less regulatory
The technology needs to be controlled, for a variety of
reasons and in a variety of dimensions to be presented
As late as 1986, only one person had written any papers
on the moral issues occasioned by the technology.
There is a gap between those who uncritically embrace
all technology and those who are naive and unable to
articulate the issues.
The Aim of Rollin’s Book
To dissect out the moral issues in the case
of genetic engineering of animals.
To disambiguate the genuine moral issues
from the spurious ones.
To consider the best means of dealing with
these issues in our society.
Gresham’s law for ethics: bad moral thinking tends to
drive good moral thinking out of circulation.
Scientists do little to educate the public about moral
issues in science, because most are trained to ignore
In practice, what emerges as ethical or moral issues is
shaped by the media:
Baby Fae Case: “The Monkey or the baby” ignored the use of
pig valves for years.
Nazi experimentation on concentration camps portrayed as
worthless: the rapid development of high altitude aerospace
medicine would have been much slower without Nazi data.
Public Assumes media coverage is adequate.
Chapter 1: “There are certain things
humans were not meant to do”
The Public’s View of Moral Issues
Press presents moral issues as dilemmas for dramatic
Public thus assumes all moral issues are dilemmas.
Intermediate solutions get ignored by virtue of the
drama of the extremes.
Use of animals experimentally was presented as a
dilemma: either abolish medical research on animals or
permit researchers total autonomy in animal use. But
the middle course of regulation prevailed.
Rollin’s view is that a similar middle way should
prevail for genetic engineering.
Why Scientists aren’t talking ethics
Practitioners of a field are least likely to think about
the conceptual presuppositions and ethical concerns in
Scientific ideology rests on a set of assumptions.
Moral judgments cannot be verified or falsified by experiment
Therefore, moral judgments are expressions of emotions and
enjoy no claim to truth.
Therefore, science is value free:
“Science cannot make value judgments . . .and cannot
make moral judgments.” Keeton and Gould,
, p. 6.
“Science does not make ethical or moral decisions.” Mader,
, p. 15.
The invalid inference
Claim 1: The truth of moral statements is unrelated to
the truth of scientific statements.
Claim 2: The truth of moral statements is unrelated to
the truth of statements about how the enterprise of
testing the truth of scientific judgments should develop.
Claim 2 does not follow from Claim 1: even if science
doesn’t make moral judgments in validating truth
claims, it does not follow that how that validation is
conducted “ought not to be hampered by moral
judgments.” (James Wyngaarden, former director of
e.g., using prisoners to test drugs w/o freely given consent.
Is genetic engineering inherently wrong?
Condemnations often take the line that e.g. “blurs species,’
is “messing with nature,” “violates the sanctity of life,” is
“playing God,” etc.
Condemnations get stronger in direct proportion to the
dramatic nature of the genetic intervention.
46% of public believes “we have no business meddling with
67% of the public believe that creation of new life forms
should not be pursued.” (NSF)
“Genetic engineering of animals does not display the proper
respect for the gift of life.” (National Council of Churches)
Intrinsic Objections to Genetic
G. E. is reductionistic.
Species should remain inviolable.
G. E. confuses the distinction between nature and
Nature is perfect as it is; G.E. alters what is perfect.
Learning to genetically engineer animals will lead to
genetically engineering humans.
Chapter 2: Rampaging monsters
Addresses extrinsic objections to Genetic
It will inevitably lead to unanticipated dangers.
Scientific arrogance that all unanticipated
dangers can be neutralized by science is
The lessons of
are that Genetic
Engineering will fall into the hands of fools and
those motivated by pecuniary interests.
These are dismissed as indicating only that
we need regulation.
More Serious Concerns
Reasonable skepticism about “Experts
Sense One: Significant numbers of people in
society may not trust experts (a) to fully
identify risks associated with their area of
expertise, or if they do (b) to take them
seriously enough to suit common sense.
Sense Two: Many people in society may not
trust experts to decide for society in general
what risks its members should take in pursuit of
a particular technology or innovation.
Dealing with Sense One
Brainstorming about risks is an essential first step
toward managing this technology.
Scrutiny of possible risks and their management should
involve those not engaged in their creation, as a control
the blinding fervor of the joy of scientific inquiry and the
excitement of the chase;
the potential financial rewards of commercially viable
80 percent of the public wants to be consulted in a far
more significant way on setting biotechnology policy
(survey in Colorado and North Carolina, by Hoban and
Dealing with Sense Two
Given that we have identified the risks in G. E. and
their likelihood, to let the experts in the relevant facts
make the value decisions on what risks we should take
and how we should regulate it is fallacious: it conflates
knowing what is the case with how we ought to regulate
The values of experts may not be the values of other
members of the society in which they reside.
Final decisions about what is to be pursued and at what
risk should be as democratic as possible. This entails
not letting physicians decide the right and wrong of social
funding priorities should not be dictated by panels of experts
in the fields in question.
A Model for Regulation of
Extensive public hearings, country
wide, on genetic
engineering of animals, to construct a list of concerns
about risks, to be responded to intelligently and in lay
terms in discussions of their management or
minimization, together with the expected benefits, the
resultant document to be widely circulated.
Federal mandate of broadly representative local
committees to judge and pass on proposals for genetic
engineering of animals, through public hearings, and
weighing their results, ultimately deciding to accept or
reject each proposed project.
A federal agency to monitor the system of local
Predictable Concerns with
I. Evolution in the fast lane.
Traditional breeding imposed a waiting period
associated with attempting to incorporate traits
into organisms, through many generations.
Insertion of genes skips generations, and confronts
the realities of pleiotropy: one gene and its
products code for more than a single trait, in
concert with other genes.
Isolated characteristics engineered into an
organism may have unsuspected harmful
consequences to humans who consume the
Control through lots of small
scale testing before
releasing or depending on the new organism.
II. Narrowing of the Gene Pool
A “superior” animal, created transgenetically with
rapidity, gives a competitive edge to those who
use it. Other stock is replaced with this animal, as
old strains become viewed as obsolete. The entire
branch of agriculture becomes monocultured.
Over time, problems develop and the potential for
responding to them is lost with the shrinkage in
the gene pool.
Control through establishing a “gene library” of
a collection of germ plasm, and use g.e.
to widen the gene pool.
III. Unwittingly Selecting for
Engineering strains that are resistant to a
given pathogen may well result in selecting
for new variations among the natural
mutations of that pathogen to which the
modified animal would not be resistant.
Engineering other characteristics into
animals changes internal
microenvironments in ways that can provide
selection pressures to change the nature of
the microbes they host.
IV. Genetically Engineered
Animals engineered to host human diseases,
such as AIDS mice, could escape.
Viruses inserted into AIDS mice can interact
with a common mouse virus to produce a new
pathogen synergistically. Such viral variants
may have the capacity to spread by new routes,
such as transmission through the air.
Control through extraordinary containment
policies, aiming at seemingly far
and preparing for the worst case.
Escape of genetically altered animals followed by their
interacting with native populations. Example: Killer
bees accidentally released in California from a research
Introduction of genetically engineered animals into the
broader environment, such as predator insects, could
select for super
Control through systematic examination of each
project through application of a table of
commonsensical, reasonable general principles.
VI. Military Applications
Possibility of bioengineering of animals to be
used as vectors for infecting enemy
populations with human pathogens (e.g.,
genetically engineered mosquitoes to spread
the AIDS virus)
Can’t be avoided by prohibiting biotechnology
in the United States: techniques are relatively
cheap and can be done by any terrorist group
or government that hires the relevant expertise.
VII. Socioeconomic Concerns
Genetic engineering of animals may
accelerate the tendency for small farmers to
go out of business because they cannot
compete with large corporations.
Efficiency and maintaining low prices carry
the risk of decreasing animals’ well
Loss of valued forms of human life
towns, farming families
values worth preserving.
Chapter Three: The Animal’s
Reviews traditional anti
Covers the newly emergent social ethic for
Addresses how Genetic Engineering can help
animals by changing their
Asserts Conservation of Welfare as the central
guiding principle in the creation of transgenic
Addresses special problems associated with
transgenic animal models of human diseases.
The Traditional Anti
Biblical prohibition against deliberate
cruelty toward animals:
Don’t muzzle an ox when it is threshing grain, for it
would involve unnecessary suffering for the animal
with no gain for humans
Don’t yoke an ox and an ass together; it would
involve unnecessary suffering for the weaker animal
to be forced to keep up with the stronger, and
nothing is gained.
19th century laws against cruelty to animals
and neglect of animals
Aimed at protecting animals from senseless
Aimed at protecting humans from individuals
who would do that sort of thing: people who
begin with abusing animals will often graduate
to abusing people. Most of the most notorious
mass murderers in the last decade have histories
of animal abuse.
Enforcement, however, was not vigorous, and
judges would refuse to enter judgments of
cruelty which had not been endorsed by
changes in the social ethic.
Problems in the anti
The ethic equates abuse of animals with cruelty, and
sees kindness to animals as equivalent to good
Most animal abuse is not done out of cruelty, but out of
ignorance of the animal’s needs and nature.
Much animal suffering caused by people motivated by
good reasons and goals: curing disease advancing
knowledge, producing cheap food, testing the safety of
Kindness is an inadequate basis for moral obligation.
The civil rights and suffrage movements didn’t have as
their battle cries, “Be kind to blacks! Be kind to
Causes of the New Social Ethic
Climate of ethical soul
searching about forms of
exploitation heightens sensitivity to injustice.
Animal issues have been kept prominently in view
because “animals sell papers.”
98.3% of our society is urban and suburban, with no
direct contact with how animals are raised, killed, and
A rational framework for articulating and defending
what was traditionally seen as merely a matter of
emotion and sentiment has been produced.
There has been a change in how animals are used.
Animal agriculture was chiefly animal husbandry.
Agriculture was a fair contract, with humans helping
animals to live their natural lives, and animals
providing their products or their lives.
In last 50 years, traditional husbandry replaced by
factory farming, with animals kept under conditions
for which they are not biologically or psychologically
suited. We can now fail to respect animal’s natures and
still be productive and efficient.
Research and testing has emerged as a major and
highly controversial area of animal use. Researchers
are not sadistic or cruel people, but they cause
All this has led to the notion that animals have, or
should be regarded as having, rights.
The “New” Rights of Animals
Proper treatment of animals is a duty, not a
matter of kindness.
As a duty, proper treatment of animals
should be legally encoded (i.e., mandatory).
Mandated regulation must replace the
traditional husbandry ethic to assure respect
for animal interests flowing from their
The effect on animals, and not just the benefit to
humans, should guide the regulation of future and new
uses of animals.
being that should be protected involves both
control of pain and suffering and allowing the animals
to live their lives in a way that suits their biological
Research laws allow as “necessary suffering” only that
suffering that is impossible to alleviate, in the context of
human use. Expense, inconvenience, or inefficiency is
no longer an excuse for not controlling pain and
Regulatory change has brought about conceptual
change. Before 1957, there was no such thing as
being of primates.” After, there
was, and science had to allow for it.
Genetic Engineering of Animals’
Improvement through genetic engineering
Disease resistance engineered in chickens to certain
The poll gene, from a strain of horn
less cattle, can
be engineered into all cattle, who are now de
surgically and without anesthesia.
Genetic engineering can be use to deal with genetic
disease in animals, either through gene therapy or
by altering the defective genome.
Could engineer food animals to fit confinement
The rights of animals are to be understood
in terms of not violating the animal’s nature.
This does not preclude changing the
animal’s nature. If animals could be made
happier by changing their natures, there is
no inherent harm in doing so
changes harm or endanger other animals,
humans, or the environment.
Principle of Conservation of
Any animals that are generically engineered
for human use or even for environmental
benefit should be no worse off, in terms of
suffering after the new traits are introduced
into the genome than the parent stock was
prior to the insertion of the new genetic
Likely Components to Regulate
Genetic Engineering in Animals
Suffering of animals produced in genetic
engineering research, either basic or
commercially oriented, must be controlled.
No animal whose life violates the principle
of conservation of welfare would be
produced on a commercial level.
Transgenic Animal Models of
Social ethic of medicine will permit creating transgenic animal
models of human genetic (and other) diseases, insofar as they
remain the only way of understanding such diseases and of
developing strategies to avoid or cure them.
Yet, this seems to violate the principle of conservation of welfare,
where offspring are created that are significantly worse off then
their parent stock, and created in large numbers.
Rollins sees the only way out of this dilemma to be the production
of animal models in which the obliteration of all subjective
experience of the animal models, the total elimination of
consciousness, is achieved. He is involved in a protocol seeking
production of decerebrate lines, induction of permanent coma,
involve a kind of euthanization of the feeling animal but keeping
the animal vegetatively alive.
The Frankenstein Syndrome
is recommended as a
provocative way to think about the emerging new
animal ethic, and should be widely read and
discussed in animal research laboratories. It
provides a wealth of non
defensive ways of
responding to the public’s suspicions about
science, and of quieting the tendency of the public
to convict science of unfeeling disregard for what
the public is coming to perceive as the rights of
Animal Liberation: A New
Ethic for our Treatment of Animals
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Alternatives to Animal Use in Research,
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U.S. Department of Commerce, NTIS,
Andrew N. Rowan,
Of Mice, Models, &
Men: A Critical Evaluation of animal
(Albany: State University of New
York press, 1994)
The Case for Animal Rights
(Berkeley: The University of California
John A. Krasney, “Some Thoughts on the
Value of Life: Physicians need to be
concerned about increased attacks on
animal research by anti
, Sept 1984: 6
Michael Allen Fox,
The Case for Animal
Experimentation: An Evolutionary and
(Berkeley: university of
California press, 1986)
Daisie Radner and Michael Radner,
Consciousness (Buffalo: Prometheus Books,
Biology, Ethics and
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990)
Created from Animals: the
Moral Implications of Darwinism
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Charles S. Nicoll, “A Physiologist’s Views
on the Animal Rights/Liberation
vol. 34, no. 6
Donald R. Griffin,
University of Chicago Press, 1992)
Lorens Otto Luterere and Margaret
The Anatomy of an Animal
(Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1992)
Rod and Patti Strand,
The Hijacking of the
Kathy Snow Guillermo,
The Disturbing Case that Launched the
Animal Rights Movement
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F. Barbara Orlans,
In the Name of Science:
Issues in Responsible Animal
(New york: Oxford
university Press, 1993)
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Agriculture, “Congressional Report: The
Animal Enterprise Act,” in
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Andrew N. Rowan, “The Benefits and
Ethics of Animal Research,”
(February 1997): 79
Neal D. Barnard and Stephen R. Kaufman,
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(February 1997): 83
Madhusree Mukerjee, “Trends in Animal