Jan 292013

Here’s a ponderable for you:

Bioethicist: Here’s why creating a Neanderthal clone is such a bad idea

Recently the idea of cloning a Neanderthal has been floating around the human noggin-o-sphere, due to a geneticist saying that such a thing may be possible fairly soon. But the bioethicist who wrote the linked piece thinks that’s a terrible idea, for several reasons. But consider this one:

Risking a deformed or dead fetus simply created only for reasons of human curiosity is not a sufficient reason to take the chance, now or ever.

Now consider: if you were the geneticist working on cloning a Neanderthal, at every stage in the process you’d have the lil’ dickens under careful 24/7 scrutiny. If during gestation you found out it was a horribly deformed mess, the logical thing to do would be to abort it, learn from your mistakes and try again. But the bioethicist is here declaring that that would be unethical. But… why would it be unethical to destroy a mutant experimental embryo, but not any of the hundreds of thousands that are aborted annually in the US? Without getting into an abortion debate, this just seems to be a basic contradiction.

The hypothetical Neander-enbryo would be created for “human curiosity,” which to my mind is *not* a bad thing. What could be learned even from a failed attempt would advance mankind infinitely more than a standard embryo aborted because it simply wasn’t wanted.

If it would be wrong to abort this one, why would it be ok to abort a million? If it’s ok to abort a million, why would it be wrong to abort this one? Or a dozen like it in the process?

The second issue raised by the bioethicist is “what if it’s not able to handle our bacteria and virii?” The third is “what if it’s violently aggressive?” Well, do these not apply to *every* baby? If a link between genetics and criminal tendency, say, is found, should not babies with that particular genetic mix be prevented? How about embryos that are shown early on to be genetically predisposed to illness? Or the parents are genetically so disposed, and likely to pass that on to the next generation?

The ethicist finishes off with the rather remarkable complaint that the Neander-baby would be created out of curiosity, not love. Ummm… honestly, how many babies are born annually out of something other than love? How many babies enter the world to a family – which may well only be the mother, or not even that – that does not love them?

Finally: how does one get to be a professional bioethicist? Seems like an easy gig.


A vaguely similar ponderable. From my experience, if a person holds one of the following views, the chances are good they hold all:

A: Abortion should not be hindered… if the mother wants it, she gets it

B: Sexual orientation is something you are born with (thus most likely genetic in basis), and all orientations are valid and should be cherished and blah, blah, blah.

C: Medical care, including screenings, should be readily (very likely: freely) available to all, especially pregnant women.

OK. Assume all are true. So, here’s the ponderable hypothetical situation:

A pregnant woman goes to her local Free Clinic for a thorough exam. A genetic test of Lil’ Dickens reveals that there is a 95% chance that the baby will grow up to be gay. Mom takes this info to heart and promptly wanders over to the Abort-O-Suck clinic and has Lil’ Dickens removed because she doesn’t want a gay kid. Are the people who are big fans of A, B and C going to be quite so supportive of this? If sexuality *is* genetic and can be tested for, and certain orientations are aborted at a higher rate than others specifically because of the orientation… is there going to be a sudden  spike in interest in maybe clamping down on abortion? Could a sudden decline in the birth rate of gay kids lead to an Endangered Orientation Act? On the other hand, if sexual orientation is proven to be a gene, not a choice… are certain religious organizations and the like that today stand squarely against abortion going to soften their stance?

 Posted by at 11:59 pm
  • BScCollateral

    My understanding is that the basic principle involving human experimentation is that anything you do must have a chance of benefiting the subject. So while it’s okay to experiment with a new anti-lethal-disease drug, the subject can’t be taken off the old anti-lethal-disease drugs. This is why the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskegee_syphilis_experiment] was a big deal.

    It’s hard to see how this applies to this one, though, unless you’re prepared to argue that the theoretical Neanderthal baby benefits from not existing.

    On the flip side, though, you could make the same argument in favor of breeding a slave race, which I tend to think would be a bad thing.

  • LordJim

    Gender is not a valid reason for abortion, so sexual orientation should not be either. I’m not sure where you get the impression that many supporters of abortion are in favour of it without any limitations, because that is certainly not the case at all, except for an extreme minority.

    • Nick P.

      Which is nice in theory, but in practice it still goes *SPLAT* when it smacks the fan of reality.

      If an abortion can be had for the reason “I don’t want to have a child right now” then unless you’re telepathic or willing to waterboard the truth out of them they’ll still be able to abort any fetus they consider ‘undesirable’ at their whim.

      *IF* something like being gay is truly genetic (I happen to believe that it’s a combination of genetics and environment, but that’s a discussion for another day.) then once the ability to test for it becomes available how do you prevent that?

      Do you say that it’s illegal to abort a probably-going-to-be-gay fetus?

      As soon as you do that, then by that same logic there’s a whole host of other issues that come out of the woodwork.


      For the record: I don’t think aborting a fetus because the resulting child will likely grow up gay to be a particularity good reason either and I wouldn’t have nice things to say to anyone who did decide to terminate a pregnancy for that and that reason alone, the problem is how do you practically prevent it?

      • Anonymous

        Regarding the causes of homosexuality: http://content.karger.com/produktedb/produkte.asp?doi=10.1159/000262525&typ=pdf

        It’s just the abstract, but it indicates that sexual orientation/identity are determined by hormonal influences late in gestation, not the genetics of the child.

        I’d be very surprised if we don’t eventually develop in-utero monitoring tech that will allow women (men, of course, have no reproductive rights:-( ) to consciously influence the hormonal environment in which their children are gestating (via diet or drugs), thereby either preventing or, conceivable, promoting homosexuality in their offspring. Whether the latter would be legal is an interesting question as the argument can be made that homosexuality constitutes a birth defect on par with sterility (or low sperm count anyway), and intentionally imposing it on a child would constitute child abuse. The debate should be amusing anyway:-/.

        • Anonymous

          Whatever the cause, if it’s found that sexuality truly is a physically-produced phenomenon, then it is, at least in principle, a physically “fixable” thing. This would be a double-edged revelation.

        • Nick P.

          This is one of MANY reasons I will dance a jig down the streets the day that it becomes possible to grow babies in vats.

          “But having a kiddoo that’s teh gayz means they can’t have kiddoo’s of their own!” *

          Nope. Vat babies. Steve and Mark can go to rent-a-womb and have offspring of their very own. The issue is now moot.

          Bam. Science triumphs again.

          *-(Ignoring surrogates, adoptions, the chance of them plain not wanting kids…)

    • Anonymous

      > Gender is not a valid reason for abortion

      What is? According to Wiki (US data):

      25.9% Want to postpone childbearing.
      21.3% Cannot afford a baby
      14.1% Has relationship problem or partner does not want pregnancy
      12.2% Too young; parent(s) or other(s) object to pregnancy
      10.8% Having a child will disrupt education or job
      7.9% Want no (more) children
      3.3% Risk to fetal health
      2.8% Risk to maternal health
      2.1% Other

      “Risk to health” is in the single digits. “Ooops” is roughly 92%.

      • BScCollateral

        And I note that all “because we wanted a boy” abortions fall under that 2.1%.”Other.”

        Which I totally believe. Yup.

        • Anonymous

          Well, this is data for the US. I don’t know that there would really be that much in the way of sex-selecting abortion in the US.

          • BScCollateral

            It’s hard to say. Personally, I suspect that almost all people who would rather have a boy don’t admit it in public. As you say, it’s impossible to know.

          • B-Sabre

            It has been a real problem in both China and India, where the cultural pressures to have a boy as the “heir” to the family are a lot greater than here. And of course, abortion for sex-preference is illegal in both countries. But it still happens.

  • Michael

    I got to wondering about one can become a bioethicist, too. A few years ago, when I was an adult taking classes at a university, I met a girl who wanted to grow up to be an “ethicist.” Her undergraduate degree was in Liberal Arts, and she planned to get a MA in ethics. She didn’t think it was funny when I said ethical behavior is being nice. Apparently, incipient ethicists have no sense of humor.

    Based on the wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioethicist), it requires at least two unrelated degrees, one of which has to be in a biological field, and the ability to spew bullshit on command. But maybe I misunderstood something.

  • David Winfrey

    >Finally: how does one get to be a professional bioethicist? Seems like an easy gig.

    Not for you, alas. BA Liberal Arts, Grad at least in liberal-ISM, which you’d have to buy to be a job prospect. Piece o’ cake for such as me, who did ENGLISH instead (“cromulent” my ass).

    Speaking of senses of humor, my dime-a-minute-plus takehome lifelong conservative-who-thinks-analytically-only-at-work sent me a “joke,” to wit: Fox had caved to Obama Admin’s complaint it lacked sufficient airtime latinos & blacks, and would now be airing “America’s Most Wanted” TWICE weekly. My reply as follows:

    “Really classy, Bobby. A new low in humor. Just call ’em s*cs, n*gg*rs and f*gg*ts from now on, OK? I won’t call you out or tell on you. BE REAL.” [reply NOT censored as SENT]

    Overreaction on my part or not? Way I figure it, I called it as I saw it, and too, ALL white folks are, but HE is to a greater extent than ME (obviously, to find his sending funny). Comments?

    • Anonymous

      > BA Liberal Arts, Grad at least in liberal-ISM

      Hmmm. So, an education that is irrelevant to the actual subject, teaches you nothing about the subject in particular and nothing about rationality, logical thought or the scientific method. But the ability to diagram a sentence or discuss the development of 17th century French portraiture? Why, that’s the fast track to getting paid to yammer about genetic testing!

      >Overreaction on my part or not?

      You should just point out to him that the best humor is based on *facts* and *reality.* So I’ll just leave this here…


      • David Winfrey

        >teaches you nothing…nothing about rationality

        Yeah, right…*I* can’t reason rationally, having myself ONLY taken in college LA courses, plus a few entry-level science ones. Sorry, Scott, your engineers’ bias is showing. Yeah, mea culpa, the arts diss/ignore the sciences far more than the reverse…but not all artists, LA teachers or etc. do that. Ideally, LA ed teaches one to question oneself, one’s received wisdom, both sides of issues, etc. Does it succeed in that? Often not. But it should be taught from 5th grade on, to all, and ain’t.

        Meanwhile, most engineers (I’m guessing; got no numbers) know jack about literature, sociology, the evolution inquiry other than that of SCIENCE [for which read: examination of reality/attempts to interpret same) etc. and hold in utmost contempt (as do you, it seems) those who even claim those things to be of value. Fine. You know everything, needn’t question yourself (let alone the origins of your psychological dispositions/inclinations) EVER, get hot & bothered anytime you’re not the obvious apparent winner of online debate, cut their mikes — what? You DON’T do those things?

        Tell me this: what BIG idea/belief have you ABANDONED as INCORRECT since you first had the world pretty much figured out? What big idea(s) did you used to think BS have you with age and wisdom accepted?

        As to the chart, yep, blacks do most bad. Acknowledging that is fine. The “humor” was however racist….”more racist than mine,” to be absolutely honest and specific. Ever read Pohl’s “Waiting for the Olympians”? What we’re not aware we’re doing gives those attentive from another viewpoint insights into who we are.

        • Anonymous

          > *I* can’t reason rationally

          • david winfrey

            1)is that an offer?
            2)got my own cats for that, thanks.
            3)Don’t confuse sarcasm with whining. Have I come across angry? Unsane? Arrogant? Deluded? Elitist? Don’t bother trying Heinleinian-adult with me, Scott; I grew up on RAH a decade or so before you did, and read feminists too. I’m “in touch with my feelings,” and stronger for that (as post-V’Ger Spock). If

            IF I lose my temper, insult or belittle you, cite/raise things I can’t (offer info to) prove, call me out. But jibes are irrelevant. We’re both grown-ups.

        • Anonymous

          > LA ed teaches one to question oneself, one’s received wisdom

          Unless it teaches you the scientific method coupled with hard-nosed rational skepticism, all it teaches you is to live in a fog of confusion and doubt.

          > both sides of issues

          Yeah, uh-huh. Some issues don’t have multiple sides. Some issues only have *one* right answer. 2+2=4, not 5, not 3, 6 is right out. The Holocaust happened. The moon landings happened. Oswald shot Kennedy. Evolution happened, the universe is older than 6,000 years, humans didn’t live alongside dinosaurs. The sun is a giant fusion reactor, not a red-hot stone or a smoldering coal. The moon cannot be blown up with a handful of conventional nukes, nor can it be turned into a cube by wishing real hard

          That’s something engineering teaches: there may not always be a *right* answer, but you can bet your ass that there are a multitude of possible *wrong* answers.

          > most engineers (I’m guessing; got no numbers) know jack about
          literature, sociology, the evolution inquiry other than that of SCIENCE
          [for which read: examination of reality/attempts to interpret same) etc.

          You say that like it’s a bad thing.

          • david winfrey

            Really? I mean, you’re kidding, right? Learning means change means not just addition to but modification of what one believed correct previous to subsequent learning. NO ONE “gets” the world fully at 18 (or whatever age you were when you were first complete in terms your present beliefs). Oh WAIT; maybe YOU do claim to have known ALL about it then…

            >the evolution inquiry other than that of SCIENCE

            [for which read: examination of reality/attempts to interpret same) etc.

            You say that like it’s a bad thing.

            Deliberate misread/partial quote to create straw man. AT PRESENT, many matters internal (psychological, emotional etc.) are ill-understood or defined by science (observation/theorization/theory-testing-revision-retesting). How we “work” as individuals and collective(s) can be best understood at present by observation largely absent (at PRESENT) of math. If one ignores literature etc. as “soft” or boring or “all about failure” or whatever, the one suffering is oneself.

            > LA ed teaches one to question oneself, one’s received wisdom

            Unless it teaches you the scientific method coupled with hard-nosed rational skepticism, all it teaches you is to live in a fog of confusion and doubt.

            Stereotypical interpretation (perhaps most-uttered by conservatives, but I ain’t taken no polls) of the experienced lives of those unafraid of the inescapable ambiguity of much of life. Do I “sound” like *I* live in a “fog of confusion or doubt”? Most of MY beliefs date unchanged to my teens…but a few BIG ones do NOT. “If I saw things the way you did, I’d be depressed all the time,” my dime/minute friend said once, to which I said, “Well, I’m not.” REAL answer is, “I’m not ALWAYS depressed.” Anyone “certain” of all they believe is most likely to be wrong on some/many of ’em, since they’re habitually self-selecting (or even looking for) evidence “supportive” of those beliefs (whilst habitually mocking those that don’t, AND those who believe THEM).

            > both sides of issues

            Yeah, uh-huh. Some issues don’t have multiple sides.

            Yeah, no shit, and every example you cite is inarguable. “Taxing the rich at a higher rate than the poor is inefficacious/unethical/unAmuhicahn” is NOT such an “issue.” Most political issues aren’t. You think otherwise? Gimme numbers. Gimme SCIENCE.

            >That’s something engineering teaches: there may not always be a *right* answer, but you can bet your ass that there are a multitude of possible *wrong* answers.

            What Lib Arts training-in-thought is intended to teach is that there is rarely (in terms NOT of science) a “right” answer, but you can bet your ass any number of answers will be held ABSOLUTELY “right” by their varied adherents. “Critical thinking” isn’t just a good idea; it’s a survival trait vital to both person and species. “I don’t like the folks who believe in global warming, therefore I’m uninterested in examining the ‘science,’ being as how if they cite it, MUST be bogus” (to cite a case-in-point of near-equal irrelevance to YOUR beliefs as those you cite as inarguable) is typical non-thought common to many on BOTH sides. The “enemy” isn’t in toto soft scientists, “liberals” (of which I’m not one; I’m a radical), “conservatives,” or any other shibboleth-catagory. It’s those who (on ANY issue) refuse to THINK. And yes, I’m calling you out on that. Have I exhibited such? SHOW YOUR EVIDENCE.

          • Anonymous

            > Learning means change means not just addition to but modification of
            what one believed correct previous to subsequent learning.

            This implies that there is no objective truth that can be nailed down.

            > NO ONE “gets” the world fully at 18

            Perhaps not, but some people are *far* more divorced from “getting the world” at 18 than others.

            > Do I “sound” like *I* live in a “fog of confusion or doubt”?

            Kinda, yeah. Your basic definition of learning seems to be that everything you learn is wrong, and must thus be replaced with new learning which is also wrong and must eventually be replaced, ad infinitum. Thus “the journey not the destination,” but a journey that seems unwilling to even try to get anywhere.

            > “Taxing the rich at a higher rate than the poor is inefficacious/unethical/unAmuhicahn” is NOT such an “issue.”

            For someone so fond of doubt, you sure seem certain about that.

            > Gimme numbers. Gimme SCIENCE.

            Start here: http://up-ship.com/blog/blog/?p=10714

            graphs & everything.

            > What Lib Arts training-in-thought is intended to teach is that there is rarely (in terms NOT of science) a “right” answer

            “Shoot him in the head” is so often the right answer. “Whack it with a hammer” is also often pretty good.

            > Have I exhibited such? SHOW YOUR EVIDENCE.

            You make the mistake of thinking I give a damn enough to even really remember you from one post to the next. If you want to be remembered, you have to crank out the crazy, like the troll from New York City who got himself banned and then kept posting from different computers (kinda sad, but I guess that’s what ya gotta do when you’re that desperate for attention).

    • Rick

      why’d you have to go full-liberal and throw in gays too? it wasn’t even part of his ill considered joke but you threw the entire approved victim list at him in your knee-jek response. Are you one of the “offended” groups, or just the racial/ethnic/orientation version of the White Knight?

      Probably makes you feel better defending those poor people you think can’t defend themselves. Need to be Tom Cruise or Kevin Costner as a Great White Hope cuz they can’t do it themselves? While laughing your @ss off at flyover state, redneck, trailer trash, walmart shopper, blue collar and corporate businessman “jokes”?

      • david winfrey

        First question: ‘cuz with 4 decades of knowledge, I know he’s a homophobe (this guy got twitchy in retrospect when he’d learned an EX boss had later had a sex change; “Was he-now-she checking my ass out BACK THEN”? Am I one of the “offended” groups? well, lemme ask you: why’s offended in quotes? Second, whether I am or not, I *AM* offended. Why? “The spear in my kindred’s heart hurts me, for I am them.” “White Knight”? No; the word’s “Citizen.”

        As to burdened-White-man’s hissy fit, NO ONE can or SHOULD have to defend themselves ALONE (ref above the word “Citizen”). Second, what’s the job held by a “defender” have to do with the nature or rectitude of the defense? As to “flyover state” et all, *I* live in a hick town in Tennessee, in a home that looks white trash, built by a guy who BUILT his OWN trailers, shop daily at Walmart, have been always blue collar, and know REAL white trash when I see it (read: Palin).

        As to

        >corporate businessman “jokes”

        take your ignorant (apparently) put-upon “minority” (’bout time) dumbass to here, read fully and carefully, think and (if you can; it’s not possible) refute (“Why would I read/believe something found on THAT site?” or “Full of ‘liberal bias’ don’t count; them’s intellectual (sic) bigotry, and reflexive/deliberate non-thought). THEN get back to me with more baseless presumptions as to my thoughts, feelings and origins.

        Thanks for your “advice,” though. I’m always willing to listen. Or read. Or debate. Or question (in particular myself). Are YOU?


        • Anonymous

          > refute

          I like #2: Rich people need to stop saying that they worked to get what they got. Because the likes of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates just fell into a big pot of money, and that digging a ditch is the sort of thing that should be rewarded just as much as inventing something entirely new that everyone in the world wants to buy.

          The problem with the attitude behind that Cracked piece is that the vast majority of people are merely *filler.* Sure, Michael Jordan could only get fabulously wealthy because he grew up in a time and place where throwing a rubber ball through a metal hoop is financially popular. But he didn’t get rich simply because he grew up in that time and place, but because he used his talents to *exploit* that time and place. It’s entirely possible that there were 10,000 Americans in his age group who could have done what Jordan did and done it *better.* But they didn’t.

  • Rick

    to hell with the abortion sideshow. here’s where the REAL ethics issue comes in:

    The child is born normally. Grows up, turns out to be perfectly healthy but less capable than stock humanity-or better, or a balance of things. Definitely an appearance issue. Spends it’s entire adult life as a lab experiment, looking at life outside of the invisible cage. Allowed to breed with it’s ow kind? nope. What about crossbreed? Probably not. Living every second like those of us who know we’re not as “good” as someone else-but without the chance to ever become like everyone else because you’re a f**king lab experiment that has completely different genetic potential.Never able to blend in. No hope of a societal normal future.

    And there’s no reason to make more. Curiosity fed, so we won’t be creating a whole race of these poor bastards. No tribal or family structure to create to fall back on other than what anthropologists best guess fits.

    Teenage alienation? How the hell would that feel, growing up knowing you’re always going to be different, something evolution passed by according to the scientists, something unholy according to the religious freaks. And having plenty of doctors making sure you lived as long as possible, with them making educated guesses on how pharmacology affects you for things as simple as antibiotics but as potentially altering as anti-depressants.

    Creating a one off sentient, emotional/logical individual merely for curiosity, and not even a prototype to make more of, that’s the real evil.

    • Anonymous

      1) Don’t make just one. You’d be better off making a batch of ’em anyway. Where you’d get a batch of varied Neander-DNA, I don’t know.

      2) Don’t raise him/her/them as a lab animal, but as a child. That would make more sense anyway. The appearance of Neanderthalls is a bit of a guess, ranging from “yeeeeesh” to “huh.” It’s entirely possible that a Neanderthal might well pass for Sapiens, just a kinda quarterback-goofy-lookin’.

      There will likely be some important differences in thinkery. The best way to find them, it seems to me, would be to embed the hairy lil’ rugrat with his Sapiens peers and look for the deltas.

      • Rick

        remember you’re talking an entire lifetime here. with all the selfish cruelty of kids, media butting in, all the stuff that a reasonably sentient creature will notice. If you ever thought Ender Wiggen had it tough…

        • Anonymous

          Well, it’s always rough on the first one of *anyone.* It’ll be rough on the first mammoth, being picked on by the elephants.

          *Someone* is eventually going to clone themselves a Neanderthal. Might as well be someone with proper protocols, curiousity and genuine humanity, as opposed to Norks or Chinese or Russians or some such.

        • Nick P.

          The smartest thing to do then would be to NOT tell the media where this experiment is taking place or who the foster family is.

          • Anonymous

            Well, *duh.* When is it *ever* a good idea to tell the media anything but disinformation? It’s not like they are going to report on it honestly and fairly anyway.

          • Nick P.

            Well obviously.

            But that was in response to Rick from whom I was getting the impression he was thinking the child would have a miserable existence due to being bullied for being a different species, mobbed by the paparazzi and whatever else.

            So the answer is obvious: Screw CNN. Publish the results of whatever observations made with the personal information stripped out and don’t tell anyone who doesn’t need to know.

          • BScCollateral

            This is pretty much par for the course in this sort of thing. “Genie”, “John/Joan” and even “Sybil” were all anonymized for the patient’s privacy. “John/Joan” (David Reimer) chose to go public and “Sybil’s” identity came out because the people doing it were incompetent.

  • publiusr

    I have no problem with cloning neanderthals, so long as they are brought up by skeptics. They would make great pro-science advocates.