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Subject: ETHI: 4 responses to what is human
From: Hans Goerl <GENETHICS@delphi.com>
Date: Sun, 27 Jul 1997 22:07:03 -0400

We had some interesting responses to Bob Resta's observation concerning the
Neanderthal/human distinction. Several responses posed the query whether a
Neanderthal who was found to have survived (or one reconstructed from
Neanderthal DNA) would be considered human. It is not an entirely academic
inquiry because increasingly around the world, a variety of human rights are
being determined on the basis of an individual's  genetic status. Moreoever
as transgenic creatures and organs become available, other questions of
status will arise.

Hans Goerl
ETHI Editor

1) from: erland@zi.biologie.uni-muenchen.de
Hi Bob,

it was interesting to read your comments on the Neanderthal DNA. Obviously,
you've misread the paper. Nothing in the paper claims that Neanderthals
branched off from the hominid line about 550,000-700,00 years ago, before
modern humans branched off.

To say such a thing is not possible from the limited data presented. It is
only possible to say that the branch between modern humans and Neanderthals
took place 550,000-700,00 years ago. Which of course is something
completely different.

Then, there is no-one trying to judge the culture of the Neanderthals by
showing this difference in DNA. We dont know what culture modern humans
picked up from Neanderthals or vice versa.

Best regards
Rikard Erlandsson, PhD                       Tel +49 89 5902 326
Abt. Prof Paabo                              Fax +49 89 5902 474
Department of Zoology                           <rikerl@ki.se>
University of Munich            <rikard.erlandsson@medgen.uu.se>
Luisenstrasse 14              <erland@zi.biologie.uni-muenchen.de>
Postfach 202136
D-80333  Munich
======== Fwd by: Bob Resta / S ========
Thanks for pointing out the subtle distinction. But doesn't your paper state
that the mitochondrial data are evidence that Neanderthals and modern humans
are different species? If they are different species, doesn't that by
definition make Neanderthals "non-human," though not necessarily
"non-hominid?" Whatever the interpretation, it is an excellent paper.

Bob Resta


From: Alastair Gunn <a.gunn@WAIKATO.AC.NZ>

Ethicists have disussing this problem for a while, mainly in connexion with
the ethics of abortion. Many people make a distinction between *humans* and
*persons*. Humanity, in this view, is a biological concept: an organism is
a human being if (and only if) it is genetically human. Thus, the
Neanderthals were probably *not* human. Personhood, however, is a moral
concept. A person is a being with "moral standing' whose wellbeing and
interests ought to be taken into account. Thus there may be non-human
persons, beings who are genetically  non-human but are entitled to moral
consideration (perhaps equal moral consideration) with genetic humans.
Examples might include aliens (ET, Mr Spock, Alf from the old TV series),
gods, and, for some, whales and other animals. A being's genetics are
irrelevant to its moral standing. If non-human beings (even
non-carbon-based life forms)  from a planet in a distant galaxy contacted
us, we might well decide that as intelligent, rational, emotional beings
they should be treated as persons, even though they weren't genetically

Recognizing the distinction betwen genetic humanity and moral personhood
thus dissolves the problem about Neanderthals  - you don't have to be human
to be a person.


From: "Wallace, Bruce" <bwallace@AMGEN.COM>

Good point - I suspect (and fear?) that the psychological and political
bottom line is that WE are human and no one (thing) else is.  Perhaps it
is pointless to attempt any other definition of humanity than "US".
(Bearing in mind, of course, that a very short time ago [if not still
now] "US" was highly ethnocentricly defined.)

4)From: Arthur Falek <psychaf@EMORY.EDU>

The focus should not be that humanity is defined by DNA.  It is that all
living organisms including hominids are defined by their DNA.  While
different species may have similar behavior patterns, if they are shown
to have DNA differences which would result in an inability to mate with
one another, that is the basis of speciation.  Many of the behaviors of
the Neanderthals would seem to be similar to those of the hominid line.
However, the mitochondrial DNA evidence now indicates these two species,
if they had existed at the same time, would have been unable to mate
with one another.  This is an objective and consistant measure of
identifiying species from the most primative to the most advanced
organisms. We live in a remarkable time with the ability to verify
speciation at the molecular level.
Arthur Falek
Laboratory of Human and Behavior Genetics
Department of Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences
Emory University School of Medicine

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