While the rest of us are debating who has a right to free CTA rides, some scientists are struggling with a more esoteric question: What rights do Neanderthals have?
Lori Andrews, a professor of law at Chicago-Kent and an internationally known expert on biotechnologies, says the question is becoming more relevant as technological advances bring closer the day when cloning Neanderthals would be possible, if not necessarily wise or ethical.
Recently, scientists completed a "rough draft" of the Neanderthal genome that showed Neanderthals and humans share 99.9 percent of their genes, she said. Among the findings: Neanderthals had genes associated with speech and a predisposition to red hair.
As a result, Andrews thinks a cloned Neanderthal would be accorded all human rights under the Constitution and international treaties.
The difficulty of cloning something as old as a Neanderthal from deteriorated DNA is gradually being resolved as scientists learn how to build a genome from different sources, Andrews said. But that doesn't change the ethical questions, including whether Neanderthals might have disappeared because they were susceptible to diseases they could spread to homo sapiens, she said.
And here's another intriguing thought: If a Neanderthal were cloned and gestated by a human mother, it's possible no one would realize that individual was not homo sapiens, especially "if he were dressed up in a suit and got a haircut from Joe the barber down the street," Andrews said. Homo sapiens vary enough in their looks that a Neanderthal's appearance might not seem that unusual.
Cloning a Neanderthal may never happen. But if it does, we should make it clear right now: No free rides on the bus.