Bio-genetic technology is advancing faster than our ability to understand the ethical issues and consequences that arise from such capabilities. With the entire Neanderthal genome mapped, it may be only a short time before some daring scientists, along with a willing surrogate, clone and give birth to a real, live Neanderthal infant; a living being with the potential for intelligent thought equivalent, and perhaps even superior, to our own mental capabilities.
How would our laws, ethics, and religions deal with the what is essentially the resurrection of an extinct human species? What rights and protections would this child have? Neither human, nor ape, would it be considered property, like any other cloned animal? Or would it be guaranteed the rights and privileges we expect for ourselves?
Andrew Brown, Zach Zorich, and Heather Pringle are among many scientists and bioethicists who have explored the multitude of issues that would arise if a healthy Neanderthal child (or two, or three) were born.
We are possibly closer to this reality than you might think. Our technology frequently exceeds our laws and ethics. Only our morals stand between us and disaster.
The continued existence of one’s self-awareness.
It’s a familiar and relatively simple concept; a basic tenet of many contemporary and archaic religions. It has been a key element in the quest for immortality that has dogged the human race for millennia; perhaps ever since self-awareness itself came into being as a side effect of the neurological activity within that mass of gray and white matter inside our skulls.
The concept is universal, but also personal; almost self-centered at its core. Everlasting self-awareness; the hope of escaping that ultimate obliteration. A desire so powerful that it drives humans to speak words and perform deeds ranging from unthinkable malevolence to extraordinary charitableness.
It’s also never a solitary endeavor. Unlike mastering a physical activity or developing a mental skill, no amount of self motivation, discipline, or sacrifice alone can control the outcome of receiving that ultimate reward. There’s always a contract with another who has the solitary, singular power to grant the gift, and who must be appeased in order to earn the reward.
Invariably, the pact is one-sided. There is a certain duplicity in the contract, as the beneficiary must play the part of both the mortgagor and mortgagee. The agreement is consummated with a one-handed handshake. The deception begins and the true nature of the beast is revealed in the name of fulfilling that promise.
Whether the blessed gift to the faithful believers, or the cursed reward of vampires and the undead, the path to resurrection was never, and still is not, free. It always came with a price, always will, and may never be a guarantee of immediate peace or everlasting happiness.