Bioethics Blogs

Altering Nature to Preserve It

Perhaps the biggest challenge in talking about something like de-extinction is simply being clear on what it is you’re really talking about. Emerging technologies can be surrounded with so much hoopla that one can lose sight of what the technologies actually accomplish.

Somebody recently expressed exactly this caution to me about de-extinction: “That is not even a thing yet,” she declared. It is just a vision so far, and we can’t yet talk about it seriously. Worse, by trying to talk about it seriously we suggest that it is indeed “a thing,” and we are off the rails right from the start. Just by talking about de-extinction, we may unintentionally give it a kind of support.

She had a point. On the other hand, once an emerging technology is well-developed to the point where it is “a thing,” then it may also be a fait accompli, and then we have probably waited too long to start talking about it. The trick is to try to have the conversations early, before the “thing” has fully taken shape, while remaining clear about the uncertainties surrounding its development.

What is the right way to talk about de-extinction? The Center for Humans and Nature, in partnership with The Hastings Center, has collected a series of essays and comments as part of an online series that poses the question, “How far should we go to bring back lost species?” To me, the essays and comments that have been collected here so far suggest three broad issues to bear in mind about de-extinction.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.