Georgia State Rep wants to ban werewolves, mermaids and centaurs (but not really)

The news media is making farcical headlines out of Georgia state Rep. Tom Kirby (R)‘s proposed bill outlawing the scientific mingling of human and animal DNA. Talking points include cheap shots at centaurs, mermaids, bird-men, and yes, werewolves.

Coverage of this topic has generally taken a “look what this goofy politician is doing!” slant, driven by an interview of Kirby by Atlanta NBC station 11 Alive in which Kirby gave bemused and frankly delightful responses to questions about the proposed bill’s impact on mermaids (“I don’t think we should create them, but if they exist, that’s fine”), centaurs (“They really have bad attitudes … and we’ve got enough people with bad attitudes as it is”) and werewolves (don’t create them in labs, but they’re okay when “naturally occurring in the environment”).

I confess that my political leanings (vote NDP!) and personal values (such as they are) predispose me to be suspicious of any legislation involving science, embryos and uteri when it’s proposed by a white male Republican from the South. However, in the interest of fairness and trying to not be a shitty judgemental armchair critic of another country’s politics, I looked the bill up.

Yes, friends, I spent my Wednesday morning commute and precious LTE data looking up legislation on the Georgia General Assembly site. I had to search for it by skimming all of Kirby’s proposed bills, since I couldn’t find the bill’s name among all the stock images of mermaids and jellyfish in the news articles I had access to.

In a nut, HB 287 (Ethical Treatment of Human Embryos Act) would make it unlawful for any person or entity to

intentionally or knowingly create or attempt to create an in vitro human embryo by any means other than fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm[,] to create an in vitro hybrid human-animal embryo[,] to transfer an in vitro human embryo into the womb of a nonhuman or to transfer an in vitro nonhuman embryo into the womb of a human…

Is it a good bill? Should it become law? I don’t know. I’m not an expert on any of this stuff, but I read all three pages and it actually looks pretty benign to me.  If it passes, it would be a misdemeanour to perform a number of hypothetical procedures that Dr. Ian Malcolm would certainly disagree with, and it goes out of its way to not prohibit procedures involving “xenotransplantation” and “research involving the use of transgenic animal models” – again, subjects that are out of my depth, but which sound both useful and very cool.

I was ready to credit the whole mythological creature thing as clever PR by Kirby to get the bill some exposure, but one look at his web site and it’s clear that he’s actually very cranky that he got asked “silly questions about mythological creatures and others from cartoons”. Should have kept up the pro-naturally-occurring-monster patter, my guy, because now you sound like a humourless fart, which means maybe your bill is actually dumb and bad.

Okay, let’s wrap this up. The whole story seems like another case of “lazy news media exaggerates wacky crap for page views”, much like the Argentine President Jewish Werewolf Adoption thing. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.