Friday, January 25, 2013

Answers for Tyler

Warning: LOOOOOONG post.

Tyler Cowen argues that it is unethical for scientists to clone Neanderthals in a post.  I find his line of reasoning kind of shockingly racist (it very arguably isn't racist, since neanderthals very arguably aren't a race of humans, but that is my perception of it). For starters I'll say that he might be right that it is wrong to clone neanderthals and/or that we should forbid cloning neanderthals.  His strongest reason for not creating them is up front:
For a start, the cloning process probably would require a lot of trial and error, with plenty of victims of experimentation being created along the way.
That's a real issue.  I'm not sure it clearly mitigates in favor of not cloning neanderthals, though.  Natural human reproduction, after all, has "victims" -- fertilized eggs that don't attach, aborted fetuses, still births, and children born with severe disabilities.    I would knowingly expose my child to all of those risks if I decided to try to have a kid. It seems like this is a situation where you've got to get specific -- show exactly how much more likely these bad outcomes are and what sort they will be -- before we can write off a neanderthal cloning experiment altogether.
But I see Tyler's point there.  The problem is the rest of the post, where Tyler makes people seeking to create neanderthals meet a burden he would never impose if they were seeking to create human babies.  When humans want to create humans, either the old fashioned way or with in vitro fertilization, we generally say they have a right to do that.  At most you might impose the moral duty on those people to 1. take care of the kid, and/or 2. ask, "is the life I am creating likely to be worth living from its own perspective."   Tyler doesn't ask those questions in this case, instead he asks a whole bunch of other ones.  I've tried to answer all of them.  Stupidly, I read the comments to the post after I wrote this, and some of what I am writing is reproduced there.
1. Could they be taught in our schools?  
They can be taught something!  Neanderthals were pretty smart.  I'm not sure if they could sit in regular classes, but there are some special needs human children who can't be taught in our schools without special accommodation   We do not conclude they should not exist, and even parents who know ex-ante their children might suffer from these problems aren't generally considered monsters for reproducing.  
2. Who would rear the first generation?  
Who rears a parent-less human child with no living ancestors?  Our society has already resolved the question Tyler asks, and has created a big infrastructure for raising parent-less children (foster homes, adoption, etc).  This infrastructure is capable of dealing with special needs children (maybe not well, exactly...).  We might want to make different rules for neanderthals (the scientists who decide to create them should probably have an obligation to rear them), but we don't need to.
3. Would human parents find this at all rewarding?  
Probably!  Raising animals is fun, even when they aren't humans.   But regardless, we generally don't think that people whose parent's didn't enjoy raising them should not exist, nor would I say people shouldn't be conceived as a moral or policy matter if I know ex ante that their parents wouldn't enjoy raising them.
4. Do they have enough impulse control to move freely in human society?  
Probably!  It would be weird for a social animal to not have impulse control.  I think, given what we know about them, the problem would be less impulse control and more excessive mental rigidity.  They were smart and social (well, less than us, but still pretty social) and had big brains, but they didn't adapt very quickly.
 Either way, we generally don't conclude that convicts or people prone to crime should not exist.  And again, I would not think they shouldn't' be conceived ex-ante.
5. How happy would they be with such a limited number of peers?  
Don't know!  But even assuming they get no satisfaction from homo sapiens peers, the same question could be asked of of a human birthing a child in an isolated village.  I would not conclude that that human should not exist.
I'd add that neanderthals lived in smaller groups than homo sapiens. 'Round 10 dudes.
6. What public health issues would be involved and how would we learn about those issues in advance?  
I don't know!  But that seems like a question you have to try to answer before you use it as an excuse to deny someone's right to exist or conceive.  The burden should not be on the scientists, here.
Regardless of the answer, we don't generally conclude that people prone to creating public health issues don't deserve to exist.  I would not conclude, categorically, that parents who were going to birth a typhoid Mary should never get pregnant.
7. What would happen the first time a Neanderthal kills a human child?  
Probably the same thing that happens to a human who kills a human child.  For example, in Texas our murder statute applies to any "person" who commits the crime, and I think any sensible court would conclude that something as intelligent and self-aware as a neanderthal is a person.  Either way, the fact that a person (animal?) could create a tricky definitional problem under the law isn't generally a reason they shouldn't exist.  
I realize that what Tyler is trying to imply here (and in a few other questions) is that the answer might be "angry mobs will do terrible things."  I'll answer that possibility when he brings it up more directly.
8. [What would happen the first time a Neanderthal] Carries and transmits a contagious disease?  
Someone gets sick?  Why would anything special happen?  I can't think of any reason a neanderthal would create new disease threats for humans in the first place, wouldn't the problem run the other way? Wait, that's the next question.
9. By the way, how much resistance would the Neanderthals have to modern diseases?
No idea!  Again, seems like a question we should ask a biologist before we decide a race doesn't deserve to live.  Beyond that, uncontacted tribes have low resistance to modern disease.  I don't generally take that to mean they don't deserve to exist or that parents in such tribes are wrong to conceive babies.
10. What kinds of “human rights” would we issue to them?  
In the US  the narrow question will be whether they are "persons."  If so, the 14th amendment applies to them.  I think they almost certainly are -- they are smart, sentient, look pretty human, many framers of the 14th amendment were comfortable with it covering subhuman breeds (in their eyes), etc.  IT's even more open and shut if neanderthals can breed with humans.
More broadly, as a dude who has studied international human rights law I am pretty confident that the International legal community would press to get them all first and second generation rights on par with homo sapiens, and I suspect there will also be an initiative to protect specific neanderthal rights.  In Europe I suspect the european court of human rights would extend them human rights pretty quickly and that would be that.  In other nations I can't say.  
Even more broadly, this is a bad question.  We don't ask what rights state's will afford people before deciding if they deserve to exist.  The correct question is what rights do neanderthals deserve and, again, the answer is pretty obviously (to me) "all of them."  This is an especially easy question if we can reproduce with them.
Did the nazis end up treating the holocaust victims better than lab chimpanzees?  Does the answer to that question determine whether european jews deserved to exist?  Knowing what you know, would you tell european jews in 1910 that they were wrong to give birth?  What if they knew the holocaust was coming when making their decision, but, via hypothetical question magic, would forget after they made the decision to conceive,  preventing the "just have the child and leave Europe" solution?  Same questions, but for German jews in 1936?
Anyways, yes, I think we would treat them better than chimps.
14. Would they be covered by ACA and have emergency room rights?
Again, I think the law will basically treat them as it does homo sapiens.  .
15. We don’t know the answers here, but I would expect to run up against a number of significant fails on these issues and others.
I do think we can make good guesses about a lot of the answers here.  I also think that even if we do fall short in resolving these conflicts, that is not proof that it is a bad idea to create neanderthals, anymore than you can non-controversially announce that it was a bad idea to create European Jews in the years leading up to the holocaust.
16. We do, however, know two things.  First, the one environment we know they could survive in (for a while) was a Europe teeming with wildlife.  That no longer exists.
This is nonsensical.  For one thing, there is the possibility that neanderthals did not completely die out but interbred with us (as I understand it academical clevermen are currently fighting over this).  For another, we don't generally assume that because humans have moved into a species's territory and caused their extinction that they are incapable, given transplantation or better management, of surviving.  On the contrary, when species start dying out we vigorously fight to preserve their existence   
Plus, you know, that's some weird biological determinism there, Tyler.
17. Second, we’ve already run the “human/Neanderthal coexistence experiment” once, and it seems to have ended in the violent destruction of one of those groups.  It would be naive to expect anything much better the second time around.
For one thing, this is just wrong.  I don't think any scientists think neanderthals were "violently destroyed."  I think a better formulation would be "and it appears to have ended with the gradual extinction of one of those groups at the hands of starvation and occasional attacks by humans.  It also might have ended in interbreeding"
For another, we ran the dodo/human experience once too, but if 1500's Mauritius suddenly reappeared in American territory, I think there is a pretty good chance the little guys would stay alive this time.  Not shockingly, modern humans have different priorities and ecological impacts compared to humans in the age of sail, much less compared to early modern humans. 
And, again, this really isn't as decisive as Tyler pretends it to be.  The fact that someone's life might have a bad outcome (or even "will definitely have a bad outcome") is not clearly a good reason to say his parents shouldn't birth him.  Certainly the fact that their species might have a bad outcome shouldn't matter.  The better question is, again "will this life be worth living from its own perspective."
18. Most likely the Neanderthals would end up in some version of concentration camps, with a lot of suffering and pain along the way, and I don’t see that as an outcome worth bringing about.

Tyler has gone form "we can't know the answers to these questions" to deciding an outcome is "most likely."   I liked the first formulation better, and don't agree with him that genocide is an inevitability. 
But again, even if it is, I'll say it for the millionth time: the fact that a life might be full of sad events and have a sad end is not proof positive that you should not create the life.  Even the strong possibility a life will have sad stuff happen in it doesn't mean it won't be a life worth living.  
I keep coming back to humans who actually lead the kind of life Tyler is worried neanderthals will lead.  If we shouldn't create neanderthals because they might suffer a holocaust,  when exactly does Tyler think Jewish parents in Germany started acting immorally by conceiving children?  Would he be comfortable telling any surviving children from that period that their existence is an ethical failing on their parents' part?  Is he confident that the children who didn't survive were sad that they were created in the first place?  Because at most I am comfortable saying, "given the strong possibility that my child will cause social problems, be discriminated against, and die in a holocaust, I might not conceive him."  Going to, "given that possibility, you were *wrong* to conceive him" is a big step.  I can only see getting there in this case if you 1. weirdly prioritize natural conception, or 2. think of neanderthals as sub-humans.

Not humans, yeah, but sub-humans seems a bit much.  Especially given how little we know about them.  


  1. So obviously, you'd bite the bullet on human cloning, but can I clone myself to use the organs if I need them?

    There's a good chance I won't need the organs, and even if I did, my clone would live a full and happy life until then. Perhaps, in America there would be legal troubles, but we can imagine some other land where I can legally have this property right over my clone.

    Would you bite that bullet?

  2. I analogize cloning to any other act of human reproduction. Can you sire a child to use his organs if you need to? I think of rights as side constraints on utilitarian analysis (mostly), so my answer is, "no, that violates his rights."

  3. What if the clone could be bred and raised in such a way that it would want to give up its organs for its breeder? By your analogy, we wouldn't stop people from having kids on the chance that those kids might become donors for their parents? Suppose with a clone, we could make that chance nearly 100% of the time when an organ was needed.

  4. Well for starters, it's illegal to kill someone to give their organs to someone else, regardless if they want it to happen. If your kid came into the doctor's office and said, "I love my sick ole dad, give him my heart" the doctor is going to say "no." I support that, since generally people who are both suicidal and not terminally ill or in chronic pain are suffering from mental illness. So under my general rule, "people should be able to do with clones what they can do with kids," this hypothetical doesn't come up.

    For seconders, I draw a distinction between "raising" and "gene therapy to make the clone do what you want." People generally have a right to raise their kids as they please (within constraints), which is smart because it keeps the state from engaging in hitler-youth style education. So if you raise your clone to 1. Lead a reckless (but law-abiding) life, and 2. Strongly favor organ donation, bully for you (unless you violate child cruelty laws in the process).

    To me it is a separate matter entirely if, in creating your offspring, you genetically select the traits your baby will have. I think the ability to select your offpsring's traits is so socially disruptive that the state should have pretty wide authority in regulating it (even though, yes, people should have a right to medical autonomy and parents should get to control their right over their kids, to an extent). In this particular case, I'm not particularly cool with people cloning offpsring who are genetically engineered to be suicidal and fanatically loyal to their parents, because those clones could be used for about a thousand extremely socially disruptive purposes beyond organ harvesting (clone a legion of personal shock troops!).

    1. In the confusing sentence above (even though, yes, people should have a right to medical autonomy and parents should get to control their right over their kids, to an extent), I meant that kids have a right to medical autonomy (as against the state and others), but parents should get some control of their kids medical lives, and the kid's right should even rub off on the parents a bit (IE, if parents want to select a certain medical procedure for their kids they should presumptively get to, and the state should have the relatively-high burden of showing why they should not).

  5. Also keep in mind that I think people who clone themselves have a duty to raise the kid, just like people who reproduce do. It would take a hard heard to personally raise a child for 18 years, all for the sole purpose of using it as an organ bank.