How Far Should We Go to Bring Back Extinct Species?

Scientific efforts are under way to revive a few extinct animals: the passenger pigeon, the woolly mammoth, and the dodo. Advances in biotechnology and cloning have brought the prospect of “de-extinction” closer to reality. But if we can reconstruct lost species in some form, should we?  What ethical guidelines should scientists follow?

These are among the questions explored in a series of online commentaries organized by the Center for Humans and Nature in partnership with The Hastings Center. The commentaries represent a range of views. With 150 to 200 species going extinct each day, some experts embrace the prospect of countering this unprecedented loss of biodiversity. Others call for setting limits on human interference with nature. 

“Perhaps the biggest challenge in talking about something like de-extinction is simply being clear on what it is you’re really talking about,” writes Gregory Kaebnick, a research scholar at The Hastings Center, in one of the commentaries. De-extinction would not actually “bring back” lost animals as they were, he says, but would instead construct “a hybrid of an existing animal and the lost one” using fragments of genetic material recovered from the latter.

He also sketches out the plausible promise of de-extinction. In addition to creating some new animals that look and behave like the lost species and can survive on their own, de-extinction technologies might prove useful to more conventional species conservation: “perhaps the genetic diversity of the Black-footed Ferret population could be enriched somewhat by producing new animals with the genomes of dead specimens, making the Black-footed Ferret likelier to survive in the long run.”

Kaebnick concludes by saying that now is the time to examine the ethical and societal implications of de-extinction -- “before the ‘thing’ has fully taken shape, while remaining clear about the uncertainties surrounding its development.”

Harriett Scott
Center News
In The Media

The New York Times
January 19, 2015
A lead article in the Science section discusses Hastings Center Report articles on the ethically and legally controversial use of advance directives to enable people with dementia to hasten their death by refusing food and water.

The New Republic
November 1, 2014
Josephine Johnston co-authors an article on the risks of egg freezing.

The New York Times
July 11, 2014
A letter to the editor by Greg Kaebnick discusses humans’ relationship to the wilderness.

Roll Call
July 10, 2014
Hastings Center board member Joseph J. Fins writes a commentary, “Congress, With Help of Private Ryan, Can Save the VA.”

June 16 & 17
Nancy Berlinger and Mildred Solomon quoted in separate articles about the family dispute over Casey Kasem’s end-of-life wishes.

May 10, 2014
Josephine Johnston quoted about Long Island doctors who recommend medications to hospitals while being paid by drug companies.

May 6, 2014
Hastings Center senior advisor Rosemary Gibson looks at a small town in Maine to see the human impact of escalating health care costs on a community.

Wall Street Journal
April 28, 2014
Josephine Johnston quoted in an article about fertility treatments and multiple births, which also cites new article by Johnston, Michael Gusmano, and Pasquale Patrizio in Fertility and Sterility.

WMHT public television, Albany
April 10, 2014
Mildred Solomon interviewed on “Health Link” about the benefits of palliative care. 

March 15, 2014
Josephine Johnston quoted on federal charges against Novartis for paying doctors to prescribe pills.

Associated Press and NPR
January 1, 2014
Nancy Berlinger quoted on brain death and the case of Jahi McMath.

New York Times 
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Daniel Callahan’s op-ed, “On Dying After Your Time,” is published in the Sunday Review.

October 8, 2013
Hastings Center Report case on doctors googling a patient is subject of an article.

September 18, 2013
Michael Gusmano quoted on relationship between mental illness and violence.

August 14, 2013
Tom Murray quoted about ethical questions raised by the BRAIN initiative.

Huffington Post
July 31, 2013
Hastings Center Guidelines called “a new must read resource for healthcare consumers.”

The New York Times
July 29, 2013
Nancy Berlinger quoted on dilemmas posed by pre-clinical testing for Alzheimer’s disease.

U.S. News Best Hospital Guidebook
July 12, 2013
Blair Sadler, board member and Fellow, interviewed about Fable hospital; Hastings Center Report essays cited. 

New York Times New Old Age blog
June 16, 2013
Over 65 blog post cited on why a geriatrician stopped accepting Medicare.

Huffington Post Live
June 6, 2013
Mildred Solomon, president, interviewed about pediatric lung transplants.

NPR’s Science Friday
May 17, 2013 
Josephine Johnston discusses ethical implications of new research that created the first human embryonic stem cells through cloning.

World Medical and Health Policy
March 2013
Michael Gusmano examines U.S. cancer survival statistics in light of claims that the U.S. health care system is the “best in the world.” 

Cell Stem Cell
February 7, 2013
Josephine Johnston coauthors article about absence of gamete donor consent in the NIH stem cell registry

The New York Times
January 20, 2013
Tom Murray quoted on the “arms race” in sport doping  

The New York Times
January 11, 2013
Letter to the Editor by Daniel Callahan on costs of medical care at the end of life