Professor Seeking “Adventurous Woman” to Carry a Neanderthal Baby… Really???
Written by: Leah Jeunnette, Ph.D.(c)
On January 20th, the Daily Mail out of Britain published an article quoting Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School saying that he was seeking an “adventurous woman” to carry a Neanderthal Baby. (Click here to link to article.)
Neanderthal child. Source: http://atala.fr/
Professor Church is an expert in genetics and synthetic biology and helped created the Human Genome Project. If there are any professors who could create DNA based upon genetic code found in fossils, put them into stem cells, inject those stem cells into a human embryo and place that embryo into an “adventurous woman” to act as the surrogate, Professor Church would be one of them. Report after report was published citing the Daily Mail article, which cited the original interview conducted by a German magazine, Der Spiegel with Professor Church. The problem: Professor Church never said it. Church explained that he was talking in the theoretical. He has no current plan to do this, and blames translation problems for this incorrectly reported quote. In a clarifying quote to the Boston Herald, Professor Church said, “I’m saying, that if it is technically possible someday, we need to start talking about it today.”
Professor Church’s response to this mistranslation is one that ethicists use all the time. As ethicists, we try to address topical issues, but we also discuss future issues. Ethicists need to stay on top of the current medical and scientific endeavors. Discussions need to take place before research moves forward. If we have learned anything from the past- the Nazi experiments, Tuskegee study- it is that staying on top of the current scientific studies and having an open dialogue is key.
Professor Church has said that his current research project has nothing to do with cloning Neanderthals. This mistranslation though still brings back the discussion of cloning, the definition of being human (specifically Homo sapiens), and genetics research. While cloning is illegal in many countries, it is only prohibited to protect human life. This leads to a greater question as to how science, ethics, and medicine all define human life. This is not a pro-life/ pro-choice debate, but rather in the scientific naming system of humans (Homo sapiens) does the category of Neanderthals get separated away to not be considered human? Additionally, if this cloning were to work, what is the status of the Neanderthal? Is it to be protected like an endangered animal? Are scientists allowed to continue to conduct research on it? Should it be treated like a human (Homo sapiens) and given all the rights and benefits that come with being a human? These questions need to be answered before the science is conducted. Waiting until it is already done puts everyone behind the issue and forces humanity to play catch up.