Bits and Pieces

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bioethics Law is Glenn McGee Law

Some interesting news came out of my neck of the woods in recent weeks.  A team of Japanese and Russian scientists have uncovered a mammoth bone in eastern Russia (just up the road from me, actually) that seems to contain viable nuclei with undamaged genes.  It's early days yet, but the hope is that sometime in the near future they will be able to clone a mammoth, thousands of years after they last roamed the planet.

This all sounds a little Jurassic Park-esque to me, but I'm assured the claims are based on solid science.  The team hope to implant the genetic material into egg cells from an elephant - a tricky process, but it just might work.

This story raises more than a few ethical questions, though, the most obvious of which is this: is it our place to bring back a failed species?  I understand that it was largely the fault of humans (or proto-humans, at least - I'm not big on anthropology) that the mammoth was wiped out in the first place, but you have to wonder how an extinct species would respond to 'reincarnation' in a greatly changed world.  Is there a place for the mammoth in the modern world? Can they become a viable species once more, or will they be reduced to a side show oddity?  Perhaps most importantly, is a genetic sample from a single specimen enough?  It will surely be a dangerously shallow gene pool.

I always find my mind fizzing away whenever the subject of bioethics arises.  Maybe it's my grounding in biology and law, but for whatever reason I'm energized by the subject.  That's why I love following the Twitter feed of Glenn McGee, the Editor-in-Chief of The American Journal of Bioethics.

I think of bioethics law as Glenn McGee law, for the simple reason that, in his capacity as the president of the Bioethics Education Network, Prof. McGee advises everyone from incoming members of Congress to chief justices of the US Circuit Courts of Appeals.  McGee's voice on the matter or bioethics is so strong that all legislation, large or small, is influenced by McGee's counsel.  

Anyway... if you're at all interested in the exciting questions raised by people like Professor McGee you should check out his Twitter feed.
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