Gay Sheep Are People Too?

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According to the Times Online, Scientists at Oregon State University are conducting experiments to genetically remove traits in sheep that may cause them to be born with homosexual tendencies.  It has raised fears of one day being able to reverse homosexual tendencies in humans prior to birth.  This research, of course, raises many ethical and Constitutional questions. 

The ethical questions are numerous, but the primary issues can be summarized into two categories.  The first, animal rights involving genetic research.  Testing on animals has always contained a controversial element, and animal rights activists have fought hard to protect them against harm.  Genetically altering animals to eliminate certain traits would fall under the same category of genetically enhancing animals to possess certain desirable traits.  This practice has been going on for years involving livestock used in the agricultural industry.  It has been labeled by animal rights activists as cruelty, particularly when the desirable trait that may improve marketability leads to a decrease in the quality of life for the animal.  The second ethical category involves the assumption that the supposed homosexuality trait is bad.

When researchers begin studying how to remove homosexual tendencies genetically, it must be assumed that the researchers’ premise contains the idea that homosexual behavior is undesirable.  Some would agree with this statement.  Others would argue that homosexual behavior is benign in its effects on society as a whole.  Should researchers be able to make this “undesirable” determination unchecked?  If the research yields results, should mothers be able to have the option of removing the gene from unborn babies?  One possible result of this practice could potentially breed homosexuals out of existence. 

Constitutional issues must also be considered.  For example, if homosexuality is genetic, it would be assumed that the condition must be treated much like race as far as civil rights are concerned.  Therefore marriage, and all the benefits associated with it, are certainly in play. Homosexuals would have a much stronger Constitutional case under the Bill of Rights.Whether you view the issue as an ethical or Constitutional one, the consequences of genetic research on animals with homosexual tendencies could be dramatic.

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8 Comments on “Gay Sheep Are People Too?”

  1. newmanj Says:

    PETA’s big lie:

    Just so you know. The false suggestion that the research is aimed at curing homosexuality was made by PETA. Yes, the animal rights group.

    Of course PETA has their own motives for receiving press on this story. In fact, PETA heavily edited quotes by the researchers and even fabricated information to generate press coverage. Many weeks ago, a writer in the states looked into PETA false claims. Here’s what he found:

    http://thenexthurrah.typepad.com/the_next_hurrah/2006/09/peta_crosses_th.html

  2. Stephen Says:

    I would be worried more if I thought genetic engineering stood any chance of conditioning behaviour.

    We ought to know by now that human behaviour is very complex. There’s no simple 1:1 correlation between genetics and homosexuality, nor is there a 1:1 correspondence between nurture and homosexuality. Any more than there is with respect to, for example, alcoholism. Human behaviour is determined by multiple variables interacting in ways impossible to determine.

    If the researchers are trying to eliminate homosexual traits in sheep, there has to be an economic angle. An increase in procreation? I can’t imagine it’s so, but surely this is the only “good” vs. “bad” calculation when it comes to sheep.

  3. Fred Jackson Says:

    When researchers begin studying how to remove homosexual tendencies genetically, it must be assumed that the researchers’ premise contains the idea that homosexual behavior is undesirable.

    Your premise is all wrong. Researchers don’t only review data looking for ways to fix things sometimes it is just to understand, or find ways to exploit. As you can see from the links below, the issue under research is more entertaining than bad (click on my name above for more information).

    Drunk Beaver found with stolen Ram from gay sheep project
    http://www.salon.com/it/feature/1999/03/cov_15featurea.html

    Clearly, more entertainment opportunities can be gleaned from this, and therefore, there is economic value, and opportunity to exploit, picture the first all gay zoo (Maybe part of the San Francisco Zoo organization…)

  4. reportcard Says:

    newmanj –
    Thanks for the information. I doesn’t surprise me that PETA would be behind a misinformation campaign. The point of the post, however, is still valid in the sense that this type of research implies that homosexuality is biologically programmed and part of the natural world, not a “lifestyle choice” or an “abomination.” Should that implication prove true, the ethical and Constitutional questions posed above must be considered.

    Stephen –
    Your 1:1 correlation argument makes sense to me. For it is most likely nature and nurture that combine in a multitude of ways based on both genetics and personal experiences that cause an individual to act a certain way. However, should this research prove otherwise, would it be ethical to allow people to select the sexual preference of their child?

    Fred Jackson –
    You’re correct in the fact that the researchers’ premise need not be homosexual behavior is undesirable. I retract the statement. Thank you for reminding that a researcher’s goal may also be to understand or exploit, not simply to fix.

    One note on exploitation, if a researchers goal is to exploit, he could have a multitude of targets including financial and political. Certainly one of the effects of his research, should it prove valid, would be on the social and political landscape of the United States. Therefore, the ethical and Constitutional questions may still need to be addressed.

  5. emptypockets Says:

    reportcard, you’re right that there are ethical issues to discuss here but they must be approached honestly, openly, and with the correct facts. Launching the discussion from a false understanding of Roselli’s work (which itself is only a corner of a very large field of research) is not appropriate.

    There are numerous studies showing that homosexuality has a biological basis in non-humans (and some suggesting the same is true in humans), and you’re right that Roselli’s work contributes to that conclusion. But, the ethical questions you raise — first, about genetic engineering of animals (which is not going on in this study) for industrial purposes (which is also not going on in this study) and second about the assumption that the homosexual trait is bad (which is in no way a part of Roselli’s work, or any other mainstream science) — could use a much firmer footing in the actual biology here.

    It’s worth emphasizing, since you seem to be ignoring it, that the researchers are not trying to get rid of homosexuality. Which is the premise the rest of your argument seems to derive from.

  6. reportcard Says:

    Emptypockets:

    Thank you for your input. You may have noticed that newmanj pointed out in the first comment made to this article that the information stated in the article was based on manipulations made by PETA. Therefore, the issue of researchers not trying to get rid of homosexuality has been addressed and discussed.

    I believe the issue has been approached honestly, and the correct facts presented (although not in the original article; thanks to the readers of this site) still pose ethical questions should the research advance. If you have further factual evidence regarding the study which you feel is relevant to the continuation of this discussion, please come back and present them when you have the opportunity.

  7. Lidia Jean Says:

    I for one am a owner of sheep and personally don’t think they should be used for some lame science experiment. They are liveing things and deserve respect!

  8. Lidia Jean Says:

    also i think this is matter of opinion, but the research that these animals are being used for is cruel and wrong. don’t people know the true ethics of American society.


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