Policy ForumGenomics

Advancing the ethics of paleogenomics

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Science  27 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6387, pp. 384-385
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq1131

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  • RE: Advancing the ethics of paleogenomics

    Dear Authors, thank you for your enlightened and respectful recommendation "that ancestral remains be regarded not as 'artefacts' but as human relatives who deserve respect in research." As an ethnographer and genealogist, I've long been troubled by past practice regarding this matter, particularly, with photographs of disinterred, decayed human remains that gruesomely accompany articles on anthropological discoveries. Those with tribal ancestry, and many people of color in general, find this practice ghoulish, sacrilegious, and abhorrent. The late Tony Hillerman pointedly made this argument in the opening chapter of his book, "Talking God" (2010) in which a fictional representative of the Smithsonian, unwittingly opens a box sent to her by a part-Native advocate, which included the decayed remains of her grandparents he had dug up in a New England cemetery. Obviously, she was deeply distraught and repulsed by that. The point should be well-taken by the scientific community. The mere passage of time, or the distance of family relationship, does not mitigate the shock and revulsion felt by the descendants of those human beings whose remains are used for scientific study. Kenn Harper's "Give Me My Father's Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo" (2001) is an even more powerful, and true, account. It recounts the heartbreaking story of how the young Inuk, was brought to New York along with his father, Qisuk and a fe...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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