The list of extinct species is growing at an unprecedented rate, membership of which has been permanently until very recently. Is it our ethical obligation to ‘de-extinct’? When a species goes extinct it is a sad loss. Whether it be down to inevitability or outside involvement, what should be done about it? Advancements in genetic technologies including CRISPR are allowing this pipedream to become a reality and, for a number of recently endangered animals, this could save their species. The real questions are should we be having this influence and how would we control it?
Bring Them Back?
Imagine the prospect of seeing species that once roamed the globe, in their former glory? Not only will this truly be an awe-inspiring sight, but by observing their unique characteristics, they will also serve a vital educational purpose by bridging our current understanding of the evolutionary process. The argument of hedonism also suggests that the best reason for bringing such species back is to simply induce a higher level of happiness which is intrinsically good.
Moreover, we should ask the question, are we ignoring the current mass extinction problem, and should we be ’playing God’ by recreating life and trivialising death? Some people may be reluctant on the idea of resurrecting long-extinct species. However, it only makes sense in terms of Kant theory, which assumes that the motive behind the action is more important than the consequences; that de-extinction is given the green light. Justice must be served, and for us to redeem ourselves in some form, species like the Dodo which were hunted to extinction must be resurrected. However, animal rights should also be protected to ensure that previous mistakes are not repeated and hence, allowing Aristotle’s concept on ‘non-contradiction’ to be upheld.
From a utilitarianist standpoint, de-extinction is justified by what will produce the greatest well-being for the majority. An initial stand to take on this is the idea of tourism. The viewing of previously extinct animals would attract a lot of attention. This would increase the income and, subsequently, employment in that area implying that the overall quality of life would have risen. From the eyes of state consequentialism, the moral worth of de-extinction can be evaluated by how it can contribute to the basic goods of a state and from what was previously stated, it is obvious that this is the morally the right thing to do.
There also seems to be a larger proportion of people eager to bring de-extinction into fruition, because in some cases the relationship that some species have with the environment can also indirectly help combat global warming, which in today’s society, is a major problem. In terms of preventing any undesired contributions to climate change, scientist Sergey Zimov discovered that by resurrecting megafauna such as the woolly mammoth to re-inhabit the Arctic circle. The permafrost would remain intact and continue to function as carbon sinks.
Furthermore, around 13 million people live inside the Arctic circle which implies a small population density. In fact, deserts could also be irrigated to build areas where extinct animals can thrive. This then begs the question, should we proceed with realising ideas like these for the betterment of humanity? If it would interfere with our way of life, where should we make the compromise?
Although there are positive logical arguments for bringing extinct species back to life, there are many arguments which stand against this. Firstly, the question of ‘Is it worth the expense?’ must be asked. Research alone would prove costly, and then the upkeep of such species would require immense input.
Considering the argument of empiricism in which beliefs are dependent on experience, deciding which species to bring back would be unethical as for a large majority of extinct animals, no person is alive with experience of their traits. Decisions for long-extinct animals could be made on evidence from history, leading to fallacious reasoning for their resurrection.
Overpopulation would also prove an issue. World population growth increased to 2.1% over the first 50 years of the 20th century and the population is set to continue rising for the foreseeable future. Reducing the space for this growth to make space for new species would reduce the quality of life for future generations and would go against utilitarianism by not providing happiness for the majority.
A further point to be made is that extinction has always been a part of existence for any inhabitant of earth, should we be altering this fact irrespective of the cause?
Although good can come of this technology, as with most technologies, it can be exploited for harm. For example, ‘de-extincting’ devastating viruses and bacteria that have killed millions of people in the past could spur a dangerous biological arms race. If a species were to be resurrected, it would need an initial population in the hundreds to ensure a high enough genetic diversity to allow the species to survive. For these reasons, journalist Adam Welz stated that:
’Genetic research should be conducted under the mantle of preserving modern biodiversity rather than conjuring extinct species from the grave’.
Professor Ross MacPhee has also previously argued that de-extinction may contribute to a net loss of biodiversity, causing less adaptable species to be outcompeted for resources and certain ecological niches. Furthermore, there have been concerns that having the ability to bring back species would hinder conservation efforts, with a likely attitude of ‘it doesn’t matter if we make them extinct if we can bring them back’. A question of nature vs nurture has to be asked – is there more to an animal than just genetics? Many behaviours and skills needed for survival are learnt from their parents, and ‘species 0’ would not have this privilege. In addition, a species whose whole existence is to be farmed would be considered unethical by Kantianism. Ultimately, this depends on if you take animal happiness into account and consider its weighting against human happiness.
As a group, we disagree.