Destruction of smallpox

Michael.Chamberland 23274MJC at MSU.EDU
Thu Aug 1 12:54:00 CDT 1996

> From:         Jerry Bricker <lcjbrick at ANTELOPE.WCC.EDU>
> I recently read that the World Health Organization has postponed the
> destruction of the the last vials of the smallpox pathogen until 1999
> (the third stay so far received).  My question to all of those studying
> and working to preserve biodiversity is what stand, if any, should the
> systematics community take (or has it taken)?  If it is agreed that a
> species that has caused immeasurable human suffering and wholescale
> destruction to entire cultures (i.e., native American communities) should
> be eliminated then where do we draw the line?  Does one species have the
> right to determine whether another should be allowed to exist?  If so,

Perhaps a comprehensive Bill of Rights for Earth Species will be drafted
at the next Inter-species Congress?   :-)   But then that pesky question
"what is a species?" rears its ugly head again... as in "that darned owl
is just a subspecies!"

> what criteria will be used in making the decision for or against forced
> extinction?  If the species is percieved as cute and cuddly (pandas and
> wolves) it will be protected but if it is ugly, slimy, smelly or
> dangerous does it get the boot?

I don't know how many species are "targetted" for forced extinction.  But
there are many species just hanging on in cultivation (as cultures, zoo
exhibits, or botanical garden specimens).  These we're trying to keep
alive, but like the smallpox pathogen, they're completely dependent on
human support.  One small management mistake could give them the ax.
Sounds like the move to eradicate the smallpox culture is a management
mistake.  We save horrible weapons in museums.  I would say smallpox
has similar "historical value" beside the possibility of future research
that may need to be done on the disease.  But then I'm not a pathologist.

Michael Chamberland
Beal-Darlington Herbarium
Michigan State University

(Hi, Jerry!)

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