The ethics of de-extinction

De-extinction: the opposite of extinction, the art or science of bringing back previously extinct species

The idea of bringing back extinct species such as non-avian dinosaurs (Jurassic Park) or more realistic Mammoths does trigger our imagination. And not that long ago it would be universally be denounced as pure fantasy. But due to advances in genetic engineering – cloning! – de-extinction has become a feasible possibility. Around the world there teams of scientists working on de-extinct species.

Since cloning an extinct species would require DNA of that species, most efforts are presently aimed at those of which we have good DNA samples: passenger pigeons, Tasmanian tigers and … mammoths. Though de-extinction is fascinating it is good to consider the ethics of the application of scientific knowledge.

Tori Herridge presents a case against cloning mammoths on the site of The Guardian. In short her argument is that in order to bring back the mammoth we need several female elephants to serve as surrogate mothers. And while elephants are on the edge of extinction themselves. She states that if we want to de-extinct animal species, we should consider those species which do not require surrogates, such as passenger pigeons, or those that could use more available surrogates.

In my opinion this is a very strong argument against cloning mammoths. Though I would remark that if we could figure out how to make a working artificial uterus, the issue of available surrogates would be moot. But even then we have to ask the question whether we should pursue this enterprise. After all where to go with all those newly de-extinct species, without harming current species? This would, of course, be a lesser concern for species which have become extinct recently.

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5 responses

  1. what good would bringing them back to life do us? They lost the struggle, too bad. Someday we too will lose to nature and it will not be too bad for us anyway

    1. >>what good would bringing them back to life do us?

      Good question. I don’t know. I think there are a few reasons why some do support such technology. First some people would like to see a real Mammoth and so, maybe to hunt them or try out a mammoth beef. Second some people feel guilty that we – or rather or ancestors – did exterminate particular species and want to reverse this as a kind of purification ritual. Third there is the issue of human supremacy, and the power of life and death. Till recently this meant usually our ability to kill, nowadays we are uncovering the secrets of life and hence the power to create life.

      >>They lost the struggle, too bad.

      Many species have recently died out as result of human action, such as the tasmanian tiger or the passenger pigeon. There is still some controversy whether Mammoths died out due to climate change of human activity. And as I said above some people feel guilty about this.

      >>Someday we too will lose to nature and it will not be too bad for us anyway

      Yes, and I have never heard any serious, rational argument why the human race should persist for all eternity as opposed to emotional and religious ones. Schopenhauer and more recently David Benatar have recently argued that the mere non-existence of mankind is not a negative by itself. It depends how human would become extinct, i.e. by war/famine or by our own choice.

      1. Please change the last the struggle to lost.
        It is unfortunate that some of them lost due to human activities, that I agree is a sad thing.
        It is a matter of time before we also lose it and sooner for some of us because we shall soon join the land of those who were.

      2. >>Please change the last the struggle to lost.

        Done.

        >>It is unfortunate that some of them lost due to human activities, that I agree is a sad thing.

        Indeed.

        >>It is a matter of time before we also lose it and sooner for some of us because we shall soon join the land of those who were.

        I agree.

      3. Thanks.

        And I should add, even though I have above expressed on criticism, it would be a great idea to just to be able to do it. Even if the mammoth so cloned is not viable. It would be a great feat

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