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In Theory: What ethical questions come to mind over the ‘de-extinction’ movement?

A new book examines the questions raised by the proposed reintroduction of extinct species into their native habitats. In “Rise of the Necrofauna,” CBC broadcaster and science writer Britt Ray examines a number of perspectives on using genetic engineering to foment “de-extinction.”

These include the contention that the spectacle of reviving dead species could leave endangered animals forgotten as grant money follows the burgeoning field, along with fears that animals might be recreated only to be housed behind bars at a zoo.

“The idea of making money from de-extinction may not be in competition with de-extinction’s ecological merits, just as putting a few revived animals on display may not be incompatible with reintroducing many more of them into the wild,” Ray writes.

Scientists who favor “de-extinction” say the process could benefit conservation efforts. A proposal to introduce woolly mammoths into Pleistocene Park in Siberia would establish a thriving steppe ecosystem that last existed more than 11,000 years ago. Australian researchers involved in the Lazarus Project say bringing back the gastric-brooding frog of Queensland — thought extinct since 1983 — would provide an impetus to turn back increasing threats to biodiversity.


Q. How do you feel about the “de-extinction” movement? Though advances in science may make such a proposition possible, what ethical concerns come to mind?


Those involved must keep in mind: Genesis 1:21, “And God created the great creatures of the sea and everything which moves about in it according to their kind and every winged bird according to its kind.”

Research and deep discussions must be held. Questions and answers be forthcoming. For example:


  • How did the species become extinct? Was it do to climate, or human over kill?
  • Would the reintroduction of the “new” creature upset the balance of nature as it exists in the present?
  • Are millions of dollars of research and development of a “new/old” species being only for human amusement or profit?

Once these questions are answered to the satisfaction of concerned and involved citizens, then the research and development of such projects could be funded.
Let us always remember the Yellowstone Park way, not the Jurassic Park way of bringing back extinct species!

Rabbi Mark Sobel

Temple Beth Emet



The job of science is to do what it can; human society must say whether or not it should. I don’t think “de-extinction” is a worthy use of scientific research and experimentation.

Humans can’t manage the simple task of not destroying species. How on earth can we, even with the most sophisticated science, manage to permanently reintroduce ones we have destroyed? It is a horrible vision that earthlings would be simultaneously destroying and recreating species.


The gastric-brooding frog that the Australian Lazarus Project claims to be able to resurrect died out from disease caused by a human-borne fungus. No embryos of the extinct frog have survived more than a few days.

Extinction still seems to me to be forever, and all of us, scientists or not, should focus on saving the species we have left.

Roberta Medford




While resisting the urge to shout “Yes to everything!” at the appearance of such a seductive word as “necrofauna,” we find a curious commiseration between the literary God and Charles Darwin here in that the former worked in mysterious ways to bring about certain species’ extinction and the latter suggested they just weren’t fit enough to survive.

While I am more likely to heed Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” philosophy (“Sometimes dead is better”) or Michael Crichton’s stern warnings in “Jurassic Park,” I hold out hope that, just as medical science has doubled humans’ lifespans in a century, allowing for the continued work of people like Nick Lowe and the Dalai Lama, a triumphant ecosytem-restoring return of the woolly mammoth might make Siberia great again, provided the inevitable money-making aspect of such an endeavor occupies its proper space.


Marty Barrett

Vice President

Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills (UUVerdugo)