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Instititute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies





IEET Link: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/Munkittrick20120213

Neanderthals are as Unprepared for Modernity as We Are

Kyle Munkittrick


PopBioethics


http://www.popbioethics.com/

February 13, 2012

Lauren Davis reopens the debate started by Zach Zorich at Archeology and continued by yours truly over whether or not we should clone a Neanderthal. She does a nice job compiling a list of yays and nays, including this gem I hadn’t much considered:

Neanderthals might not be built for modern life. The last recognizably Neanderthal human died out tens of thousands of years ago. Since then, modern humans have moved into cities and proven, to varying degrees, our ability to live in modern society. It’s entirely possible that a Neanderthal would adjust to modern life as easily as any other child. But we won’t know for sure until we clone one.

What caught me here is that as I read it I said aloud, “humans aren’t built for modern life!” I think of all the diets and exercise routines and explanations for ailments that stem from the idea that humans have changed our world faster than our body can evolve. As a result, an animal that evolved to live in small social groups (less than150) on savannah and to eat mostly vegetables with occasional meat acquired by long-distance running, now spends most of its time socializing with thousands of different individuals in overwhelmingly urban environments with a meat, dairy, and grain-based diet spending large amounts of time sitting.

We, Homo sapiens sapiens, are not built for the world we’ve built ourselves.

So we’ll have to change the world some more, to bring things back into balance. Or maybe we’ll turn inward and change ourselves. Both seem to be in order. Either way, the Neanderthal stands as much a fighting chance as we do. I still think cloning a Neanderthal and raising her while allowing her to be observed and studied can be done ethically.

The other two “cons” Davis points out, “You would be creating a person just for them to be studied,” and “She would have no peers” are both non-starters.

The former is an appeal to a Kantian “mere means” critique of cloning. The Neanderthal clone would not be created just for study any more than a parent has a second child to give the first a playmate. You can create a person with a goal without dehumanizing that person. To want to give a Neanderthal the chance to walk this Earth again is reason enough for her to be. She would be as valuable as any other person. That she would be studied is secondary to her reason for being.

The latter, that she would have no peers, is without impact. There have always been firsts, originals, and peerless individuals among human beings. That she might be mocked or ridiculed is why it would be critical to ensure she had a supportive and nurturing family environment. Beyond that, there is no reason anyone else should know she is a Neanderthal. Like adoption, it should be something the family shares together, but needn’t broadcast to the world.

Without the label, I doubt anyone would be able to differentiate her from us. I suspect the differences would be so minimal as to upset human exceptionalists everywhere. Given safe methods, a proper foster family, strict guidelines for study, adequate privacy, and full human rights, I can see no reason cloning a Neanderthal would be unethical.

 


Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.

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