Want to give birth to a Neanderthal? Apply within! (UPDATE: Probably illegal and mistranslated)

See update below.

All sorts of serious considerations with this one.

‘Adventurous’ Woman Needed as Surrogate for Neanderthal Baby.

Harvard geneticist George Church recently told Der Spiegel he’s close to developing the necessary technology to clone a Neanderthal, at which point all he’d need is an “adventurous human woman” — einen abenteuerlustigen weiblichen Menschen — to act as a surrogate mother.

What would that entail? According to a 2008 study of a Neanderthal infant skeleton (from which the above image is taken), “the head of the Neanderthal newborn was somewhat longer than that of a human newborn because of its relatively robust face,” and Neanderthal women generally had a wider birth canal than human women. Neanderthal birth was simpler than human birth, because Neanderthal infants didn’t have to rotate to get to the birth canal, but otherwise the processes were very similar.

This idea raises serious ethical conundrums greater even than the controversial area of cloning in general. The odds that this child will live is low. But it’s a human. Yet, if it DOES live, it is an oddity, a freak. Sadly, it will be a novelty. What sort of life is that? Is that fair? Should we be resurrecting Neanderthal life? So many questions and no “right” answers.

UPDATE (21-Jan-2013) Covered by The Guardian. They note “this kind of experiment is illegal in Britain and many other countries.”

UPDATE (22-Jan-2013) It appears to have been a mistranslation. The professor really didn’t say that he was going to do this.

“The real story here is how these stories have percolated and changed in different ways,” George M. Church, a Harvard geneticist who helped kick off the Human Genome Project, told the Herald last night.

He blames a mistake in an article he says was written off an interview in the German magazine Der Spiegel, badly misinterpreting what he said — that such a cloning might theoretically be possible someday — and arriving at the conclusion that he was actively looking for a woman to bear a cave baby with DNA scavenged from ancient Neanderthal bones. He suggested poor translation skills may be part of the problem.

“I’m certainly not advocating it,” Church said. “I’m saying, if it is technically possible someday, we need to start talking about it today.”

It’s nice to have this sorted out. Took a while.

  5 comments for “Want to give birth to a Neanderthal? Apply within! (UPDATE: Probably illegal and mistranslated)

  1. January 19, 2013 at 8:45 PM

    Is the child an ethical agent, or is that something we only grant to homo sapien sapiens?
    Does the mother waive her rights as guardian, and if so who takes responsibility for the offspring?
    If we do grant agency to this child at what age does it go into effect?
    What is the law, and ethics surrounding surrogacy, adoption, and orphans?

  2. Tyler
    January 19, 2013 at 10:30 PM

    An effort to clone a Neanderthal (a.k.a. as human being) would probably result in the largest public backlash against science ever seen. That’s if it worked, it’s hard to imagine the outcry if problems developed leading to miscarriage. Dr. Church may wish to review the status of regulations regarding human reproductive cloning before signing up, as he so strangely puts it, ‘an adventurous human woman.’

    Hopefully the Harvard Institutional Review Board will help him get a handle on the ethical issues which seem to escape him. I’d love to see the informed consent for this one.

    May it never happen.

  3. January 20, 2013 at 12:14 AM

    Normally I am quite liberal with my views on science, stem cell research and other similar “controversial” things, but this certainly seems too far to me, it’s the reason we need ethical comitees.

  4. Graham
    January 20, 2013 at 5:06 AM

    Or worse the New Age types could decide that the resulting child is the Messiah or posessed of ‘special powers’

  5. January 20, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    I’m willing to bet that George Church was either joking or being controversial for the sake of shaking things up. What he says in this video is quite a bit different than how Der Spiegel puts it. We are not anywhere near “close” to cloning a human being, let alone an extinct human being. Listen carefully to the video.

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