Friday, November 11, 2011


I once did a post exploring the hypothetical of industrializing production of human breast milk for sale, either for babies themselves (or even for adults!) The post ended up discussing the phenomenon that, even though I can't find anything intrinsically ethically wrong or immoral with the idea (wet-nurses have always existed, people sell their hair for wigs, etc) there is something that "feels wrong" about it. But on the other hand, maybe that's just squeamishness.

I just came across another article that raises related, but also very different, issues for me. This article suggests that soon enough meat (and other sorts of animal products) will be grown from animal stem-cells in laboratories rather than having to actually raise a whole animal and then slaughter it (and waste the unuseable parts, etc). That this will both solve the objections of vegans and vegetarians and animal rights folks (since there was never a whole living animal alive and killed in the first place) and also make meat-eating much more sustainable for mankind, as we won't need to waste all that land and water and grain on feeding the livestock (the proportions of which truly are unjust and unsustainable: the grain that could feed 16 people creates enough meat to feed only 1).

However, there is something a bit icky seeming about this, no? I mean just based on the sheer artificiality of it. And yet, if they made it absolutely indistinguishable, would any of us care? We wouldn't even be able to tell.

On the other hand, to do a reductio ad absurdum thought experiment...what if we used human adult stem-cells to grow human meat (never part of a living person, mind you)? Surely this couldn't be good? And yet, no one would object to swallowing a hang-nail, which is a little piece of your own skin, after how would this be different in nature rather than merely degree? Still, the commodification of something human seems so wrong, even if we didn't eat it, even prior to the natural revulsion/taboo against consuming human flesh. And yet, as I think back to my breast-milk question...wet-nurses have long sold their breast-milk, as it were, and people have often grown out their hair to sell it for wigs, so maybe it's just the thought of living tissue that makes us squeamish? And, no one is objecting to adult-stem-cells used to grow new organs to implant to save lives.

Of course, no one is actually proposing using this process to popularize cannibalism, but rather to deal with animal meat. And squeamishness is relative, I suppose: is the idea of lab-grown "humane" meat really any less disgusting than the fact that, currently, eating meat involves violently excising bloody muscle from the corpse of an enslaved animal? And yet, I still love eating meat...

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