(update.. hehehe to all critics.)
I just spend an hour on the phone with civil servants of the city of the Hague, and with the commission on “these issues” of the Dutch parliament. Why did I do that?
Well, this may be a theoretical issue. It may be a human rights issue. And it may be an animal rights issue, but based on this article – the human species could soon be faced with a human citizen of a western nation giving birth to a transgenic baby that was derived from genetic material of a neanderthal.
Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School believes he can reconstruct Neanderthal DNA and resurrect the species which became extinct 33,000 years ago. His scheme is reminiscent of Jurassic Park but, while in the film dinosaurs were created in a laboratory, Professor Church’s ambitious plan requires a human volunteer.
As was evident in the reactions I got from my local governments, clearly the idea is not covered by law. So essentially a woman giving birth to what technically can be regarded as a living non-human (which by default would mean the offspring would be regarded as an animal) is not covered under Dutch law. On the positive side, my phone call was treated seriously, and I got no formal position. “we’ll see it when it happens”, i.e. No the municipality of the city of the Hague has no formal position. In theory a Dutchwoman that gives birth to a living son or daughter would be able to register that child as a birth. So that’s a yes. However no, a parent can not register an animal as a human. So that’s a “no”.
This is happening as we speak. In other words, theoretically it is possible to gestate a human female with a primate offspring, either a completely natural Chimpanzee embryo, or the above described hypothetical transgenic construct of a Neanderthal. The Neanderthal seems to be a pretty open and shut case of a human birth.
But what happens if a human gives birth to a Chimpanzee baby?
My first follow-up question would be – in what country would this happen? I assume that if this were to happen in countries with a very strong religious or conservative electoral base, there would be a backlash and an outcry, and most likely the birth would not be recognized as human, and quite possibly this act could have legal consequences. The woman (and the medical team involved) might be accused of animal abuse. So I would clearly not run this experiment in the United States.
However if this birth were to transpire in a more liberal or humanist country, such as the Netherlands (allegedly!) and the mother and child would arrive for registry of a newborn in the company of lawyer and physician, then I can easily see this event to act as a watershed event for the recognition of a primate as a “legal” human being.
Quite often humans give birth to disabled humans. While I would not a priori call a chimpanzee (or a neanderthal) “disabled”, such an offspring would however face certain barriers in functioning in human society. A Chimpanzee who inherited citizenship rights after being born of a human mother would have to receive the care as a human person with certain cognitive disabilities would have to receive.
It should be clear why a woman would want to go through such an ordeal. The main reason would be to coerce the legislative system in to acknowledging the similarities between higher order primates and humans, and to force national and international law into the theoretical situation that a chimpanzee can under certain conditions be regarded as a legal human. The next question would be – if this particular chimp is a “human” by law, then why not all higher order primates that can be born in this manner?
If I were a female animal rights activist concerned for the mass-killing of primates, and the use of primates in medical experiments, I would be thinking of a way how to have a chimpanzee fertilized blastocyst implanted in my womb, and I would be looking at a suitably “enlightened” place to give birth. Take one for the team so to speak. At the very least this political act would mean instant fame.
And maybe, just maybe, I have insider information that this is already happening.