A Harvard geneticist is hoping to find an “adventurous female human” who will be willing to carry a “neo-Neanderthal” child created from DNA taken from the bones of the primitive sub-species of humankind.
The Daily Mail is reporting that Professor George Church, 58, of Harvard Medical School believes he is ready to attempt to reconstruct Neanderthal DNA after analyzing the genetic code found in fossilized bones of the 33,000 year-old species.
His plan is to create the DNA based on the genetic code found in the samples, insert this DNA into stem cells, then inject them into the cells of a human embryo in the early stages of life. After growing in the lab for a few days, the ‘neo-Neanderthal’ embryo would then be implanted in the womb of a surrogate mother.
His project is ready to begin, except that he will need “an adventurous female human,” he said.
As to whether or not the plan will result in the birth of a Neanderthal remains to be seen.
“It depends on a hell of a lot of things, but I think it can be done,” he said.
While it might sound like quackery, Professor Church knows what he’s doing. A pioneer in synthetic biology, he helped initiate the Human Genome Project that mapped human DNA. His latest book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves, describes this practice and the philosophy behind it.
“Neanderthals might think differently than we do. We know they had a larger cranial size. They could even be more intelligent than us,” Church told the German magazine Der Spiegel. “When the time comes to deal with an epidemic or getting off the planet, it’s conceivable that their way of thinking could be beneficial.”
He added: “The main goal is to increase diversity. The one thing that is bad for society is low diversity. This is true for culture or evolution, for species and also for whole societies. If you become a monoculture, you are at great risk of perishing. Therefore the recreation of Neanderthals would be mainly a question of societal risk avoidance.”
The ethical concerns are monumental. Experts say neo-Neanderthals could lack immunity to modern diseases, or that the process could result in deformity. There is also a question of how this creature would fit into the modern world.
Bioethicist Bernard Rollin of Colorado State University told the Mail: “I don’t hink it’s fair to put people… into a circumstance where they are going to be mocked and possibly feared.”
The Church condemns this and all forms of human cloning. As the Pontifical Academy for Life wrote in 1997, the necessary condition for any society is “that of treating man always and everywhere as an end, as a value, and never as a mere means or simple object.”
However, in human cloning, these conditions fall apart because it violates the two fundamental principles upon which all human rights are based: the principle of equality among human beings and the principle of non-discrimination. “Contrary to what may appear at first sight, the principle of parity and equality among human beings is violated by this possible form of man’s domination over man, and the discrimination that comes about through the whole selective-eugenic dimension inherent in the logic of cloning.”
Professor Church’s call for an “adventurous human female” also proves that cloning violates more than just the inherent dignity and human rights of the cloned embryo. It also “objectifies human sexuality and turns the bodies of women into commodities,” wrote the Vatican Mission to the UN in February 2003.
Women are also deprived of their innate dignity “by becoming suppliers of eggs and wombs.” This carries the risk of putting women at the mercy of other persons and/or powers that “could easily exercise undisputed dominion over the duration of this person’s life or his or her unique identity.”
Thankfully, during the interview with Der Spiegel, Professor Church did say that a prerequisite for this project would be that human cloning becomes acceptable to society.
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