1.Last Chance to Shut Door on GM Humans - Human Genetics Alert
2.Genetically Modified Humans? No Thanks - Washinton Post
EXTRACTS: The creation of GM babies is not just a hypothetical scenario: leading British scientists, such as Robert Winston and Ian Wilmut, have already patented techniques for doing this, including patenting human semen and embryos. If you care about the impact of GM on food and the environment it makes no sense to be quiet about this. (item 1)
1.Last Chance to Shut the Door on GM Human Beings
Human Genetics Alert, http//www.hgalert.org
PLEASE ACT NOW!
In just a few weeks British MPs will decide whether to allow scientists to start research on the ultimate step in genetic engineering: the creation of GM ‘designer’ human beings. In the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, now going through Parliament, the Government wants to allow the creation of GM human embryos, as the first step towards developing safe technology for creating GM babies. The creation of GM babies is not just a hypothetical scenario: leading British scientists, such as Robert Winston and Ian Wilmut, have already patented techniques for doing this, including patenting human semen and embryos.
If you care about the impact of GM on food and the environment it makes no sense to be quiet about this. The driving forces behind the push for GM humans are no different from those with GM food: money and scientists' desires for control over nature. And just as with GM food, the result will be loss of genetic diversity and the creation of new inequalities. Children will be designed to compete better but, of course, the rich will be able to purchase genetic advantages for their children over those of the rest of us. Human beings will become just another commodity, subject to market forces. There is no medical need for HGM (see http://www.hgalert.org/Stop_GM_Embryos.html for more details on this and other points), but once it is used for medical purposes, it will soon be used for cosmetic and 'enhancement' purposes, just as drugs and surgery are being used today.
Human beings are the only species left on the planet where there still exist formidable technical, ethical and legal barriers to genetic engineering this is a battle that can be won, if we only raise our voices against the Government's plans. Most governments view the creation of GM babies in the same way as human cloning, and many have banned it Britain would be the first to break this consensus.
Although this Bill prevents the creation of GM babies (with a major loophole) for the present, while the technology is still unsafe, the Government's own documents have admitted that GM babies are the ultimate goal. So this is the moment when there must be democratic debate, so that we don’t repeat the GM food experience, where most people only heard about it for the first time when Monsanto’s GM soya began to flood into supermarkets. And it is crucial that the debate is not framed as science vs religion - so those who support women’s rights, and have learned from the experience of GM food must have their voices heard. Even if you live outside the UK, your help is vital, since the British Government is sensitive to international pressure.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The Bill is likely to be debated in the House of Commons in mid-May.
*Write to your MP letting them know your views on the Government’s plans. It is always better to use your own words, but if you do not wish to, here is a sample letter you can use http://www.hgalert.org/Sample_letter.html
*Forward this message to others who may be concerned.
*Support Human Genetic Alert's (http://www.hgalert.org) campaign: let us know what you have done, and, if possible, send us a donation to help with the campaign.
*For more information on this issue, visit http://www.hgalert.org/Stop_GM_Embryos.html
2.Genetically Modified Humans? No Thanks.
by Richard Hayes
Washington Post, April 15 2008
In an essay in Sunday's Outlook section, Dartmouth ethics professor Ronald Green asks us to consider a neo-eugenic future of 'designer babies,' with parents assembling their children quite literally from genes selected from a catalogue. Distancing himself from the compulsory, state-sponsored eugenics that darkened the first half of the last century, Green instead celebrates the advent of a libertarian, consumer-driven eugenics motivated by the free play of human desire, technology and markets. He argues that this vision of the human future is desirable and very likely inevitable.
To put it mildly: I disagree. Granted, new human genetic technologies have real potential to help prevent or cure many terrible diseases, and I support research directed towards that end. But these same technologies also have the potential for real harm. If misapplied, they would exacerbate existing inequalities and reinforce existing modes of discrimination. If more widely abused, they could undermine the foundations of civil and human rights. In the worst case, they could undermine our experience of being part of a single human community with a common human future.
Once we begin genetically modifying our children, where do we stop? If it's acceptable to modify one gene, why not two, or 20 or 200? At what point do children become artifacts designed to someone's specifications rather than members of a family to be nurtured?
Given what we know about human nature, the development and commercial marketing of human genetic modification would likely spark a techno-eugenic rat-race. Even parents opposed to manipulating their children's genes would feel compelled to participate in this race, lest their offspring be left behind.
Green proposes that eugenic technologies could be used to reduce 'the class divide.' But nowhere in his essay does he suggest how such a proposal might ever be made practicable in the real world.
The danger of genetic misuse is equally threatening at the international level. What happens when some rogue country announces an ambitious program to 'improve the genetic stock' of its citizens? In a world still barely able to contain the forces of nationalism, ethnocentrism and militarism, the last thing we need to worry about is a high-tech eugenic arms race.
In his essay, Green doesn't distinguish clearly between different uses of genetic technology -- and the distinctions are critical. It's one thing to enable a couple to avoid passing on a devastating genetic condition, such as Tay-Sachs. But it's a different thing altogether to create children with a host of 'enhanced' athletic, cosmetic and cognitive traits that could be passed to their own children, who in turn could further genetically modify their children, who in turn... you get the picture. It's this second use of gene technology (the technical term is 'heritable genetic enhancement') that Green most fervently wants us to embrace.
In this position, Green is well outside the growing national and international consensus on the proper use of human genetic science and technology. To his credit, he acknowledges that 80 percent of the medical school students he surveyed said they were against such forms of human genetic engineering, and that public opinion polls show equally dramatic opposition. He could have noted, as well, that nearly 40 countries -- including Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, and South Africa -- have adopted socially responsible policies regulating the new human genetic technologies. They allow genetic research (including stem cell research) for medical applications, but prohibit its use for heritable genetic modification and reproductive human cloning.
In the face of this consensus, Green blithely announces his confidence that humanity 'can and will' incorporate heritable genetic enhancement into the 'ongoing human adventure.'
Well, it's certainly possible. Our desires for good looks, good brains, wealth and long lives, for ourselves and for our children, are strong and enduring. If the gene-tech entrepreneurs are able to convince us that we can satisfy these desires by buying into genetic modification, perhaps we'll bite. Green certainly seems eager to encourage us to do so.
But he would be wise to listen to what medical students, the great majority of Americans and the international community appear to be saying: We want all these things, yes, and genetic technology might help us attain them, but we don't want to run the huge risks to the human community and the human future that would come with altering the genetic basis of our common human nature.
Richard Hayes is executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society.