Suppose that, tomorrow, we find living examples of the ‘Hobbit’, Homo floresiensis, living in a secluded and cave on Flores Island. We’d have several options on what to do. We could ship them off to the nearest zoo, perhaps exhibiting them next to the chimpanzees and bonobos. Undoubtably this is what creationists would be forced to do, their arguments logically requiring them to deny that we have any relation to the ‘Flores man’. The more enlightened amongst us would see an interesting dilemma, however. Paleoanthropologists have discovered that H. floresiensis could use quite complex tools, so despite their small brain size it’s clear that they had a lot in common with us (or at least, us 16,000 years ago) cognitively and, maybe, socially. Would we give them human rights, land and legal protection? How far do we have to go? Is this a slippery slope to arguments like those of the Great Ape Project, who want rights for our closest living relatives?
These are related, though far more improbable, dilemmas to the one discussed in an event hosted by the University of Edinburgh’s worst most interesting new society, our nemeses friends the Life Soc*. They have an interest in the debates over abortion, euthanasia, stem cells and other related matters, like human-animal hybrids. To discuss this latter issue, they brought in Dr. Callum McKellar**, who is part of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, a body which advises the Scottish parliament, no less. His talk was refreshingly nonpartisan (I had expected Life Soc, bless ‘em, to wheel out some religious bigot who used the phrase ‘playing God’ every ten seconds), and was a simple outline of the main techniques of hybridisation and the issues associated with them. Here I shall attempt to synthesise a hybrid of his thoughts and mine. Or something.