In an extremely disturbing development, advocates of genetic
enhancement and germline modification appear to have secured
influential roles within the World Health Organization. An important
new WHO report, "Genomics and World Health," includes
a passage saying,
"If at some point in the future it becomes possible
safely to enhance, for example, individuals' memory, intelligence,
or immune system, doing so would likely be beneficial to almost
everyone in most social contexts.... Any enhancements of
children undertaken by their parents should be of traits like
these" (Ch. 8.8, p. 22).
Regarding inheritable genetic modification, it says,
"If extensive animal studies were to show that [germline
modification] is effective, it is difficult to see why it
would raise major ethical issues if used to eradicate a lethal
disease from a family; some would not even rule out the possibility
of germ-line enhancement in the future" (Ch 8.8, p. 24).
These statements are in direct opposition to policies already
adopted by many countries and international bodies. For example,
the 1996 Convention on Biomedicine and Human Rights, adopted
by the 41-member Council of Europe, explicitly bans both genetic
enhancement and inheritable genetic modification, as does legislation
now before the Canadian Parliament.
Other sections of the report predict that genomics will have
major effects on the prevention, diagnosis and management of
many diseases, while acknowledging that some claims for its
medical benefits have been overstated. It also notes that new
genetic technologies could exacerbate existing inequalities
in health and health care both between and within countries.
The WHO report is at http://www3.who.int/whosis/genomics/genomics_report.cfm.
See especially Chapter 8 at http://www3.who.int/whosis/genomics/pdf/genomics08.pdf.