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Health & Human Rights Leaders Call for Global Ban on Species-Altering Procedures

Genetic Crossroads
October 3rd, 2001

Leading health law experts, advocates for human rights, and others gathered at Boston University September 21-22 for "Beyond Cloning: Protecting Humanity from Species-Altering Procedures." Conference organizers and speakers called for a global ban on genetic procedures that fundamentally change the nature of the human species.

"Uncontrolled use of the new genetic technologies risks setting us on a dehumanizing road to genetic genocide," said George Annas, professor and chair of Boston University's Health Law Department, one of the conference sponsors. "We need a comprehensive global treaty that bans the most dangerous genetic technologies while allowing beneficial medical applications to proceed."

More than 140 participants discussed the ethical, legal, and social challenges raised by human genetic technologies; the inadequacy of existing controls; possible provisions of a new global treaty; and political strategies for its adoption.

The envisioned global accord would ban the creation of human clones and the modification of inheritable genes, and provide for regulations to ensure that other new human genetic and reproductive technologies are used in ways that benefit rather than harm human life and society.

Conference organizers noted that many governments, including most recently those of France and Germany, have called on the United Nations to initiate discussions intended to lead to a global treaty, and that for such an effort to succeed a broad civil society initiative, including non-governmental organizations, is needed.

Leading participants in the conference included advocates of women's health and reproductive choice, disability rights, indigenous peoples rights, and environmental protection.

Proponents of a global ban plan the publication of a report outlining the need for such an initiative; further discussions with a wide range of scientific, legal, health, human rights, environmental and political leaders about ways to put such a proposal on the international agenda; and an international conference at a venue outside North America.

For a set of summary materials from the Beyond Cloning conference, including a draft text of a proposed accord, email your postal address to Jesse Reynolds of the Center for Genetics and Society at Contact us.

Here are some of the key points made by conference speakers:

* Lori Andrews, Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Institute of Science, Law and Technology, Chicago-Kent College of Law, argued that bans, not moratoria, are needed for the most dangerous genetic technologies.

* George Annas, Professor and Chair, Health Law Department, Boston University School of Public Health and Co-founder, Global Lawyers and Physicians, argued that "individuals, countries, or corporations" have no rights to genetically alter the human species.

* Patricia Baird, University Distinguished Professor, Department of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia and former Chair, Canadian Royal Commission on the New Reproductive Technologies, reviewed the public consultation process that has led Canada to propose national legislation that would regulate the new technologies, and ban cloning and inheritable genetic manipulation.

* Brent Blackwelder, President, Friends of the Earth, affirmed that the genetic manipulation of the human species and of the processes of the natural world in general should be strongly opposed by environmentalists.

* Alexander Capron, Director, Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics, University of Southern California, made a strong case for a moratorium on the creation of clonal embryos for research purposes.

* Michael Dorsey, Sierra Club National Board of Directors and Thurgood Marshall Fellow, Dartmouth College, emphasized the necessity for early participation by the Global South in any international treaty.

* Leonard Glantz, Associate Dean and Health Law Professor, Boston University School of Public Health, challenged participants to articulate more clearly why they oppose species-altering technologies.

* Michael Grodin, Professor of Health Law, Boston University, and co-founder, Global Lawyers and Physicians, demonstrated the inadequacy of existing regulations and structures to control species-altering genetic technologies.

* Debra Harry, Executive Director, Indigenous People's Council on Biocolonialism, argued that indigenous peoples need to be involved in the early stages of any proposed treaties.

* Richard Hayes, Executive Director, Center for Genetics and Society, emphasized the urgent need to build a broad social movement, including both professional organizations and mass-based popular organizations, to counter the push towards a techno-eugenic future.

* Andrew Imparato, President, American Association of People with Disabilities, recalled the history of eugenicist targeting of people with disabilities, and criticized the exploitative use of images of disabled people to motivate opposition to harmful technologies.

* Rosario Isasi, Health Law and Bioethics Fellow, Boston University School of Public Health, and Global Lawyers and Physicians (Peru), demonstrated a new interactive web site that displays national and international policies on human cloning and inheritable genetic modification. See .

* Stephen Marks, Director, Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health, detailed existing international treaties and proclamations that establish grounds for constraining species altering technologies.

* Maxwell Mehlman, Professor of Law and Director, Law-Medicine Center, Case-Western Reserve University, noted that although a global treaty would face many obstacles, it appears to be an appropriate solution to the dangers posed by the new technologies.

* Stuart Newman, Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, New York Medical College, and Board Member, Council for Responsible Genetics, argued that human cloning and germline alteration are inherently unsafe, and that it would be impossible to "get there from here" without the unacceptable use of human lives as experiments.

* Judy Norsigian, Executive Director and Co-Founder, Boston Women's Health Book Collective, emphasized the special impact that new genetic and reproductive technologies have on women and children.

* Evelyne Shuster, Human Rights and Ethics Program, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Philosophy and Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, noted that the rhetorical categories used to describe the new genetic technologies bias us towards their acceptance.

* Susannah Sirkin, Deputy Director, Physicians for Human Rights, recounted the strategies and tactics used by Physicians for Human Rights to win a global treaty banning landmines.

* Ann Snyder, Executive Director, Ethics, Law and Biotechnology Society, Harvard Law School, spoke as a member of the Harvard student community. She called for more dialogue before making potentially irreversible decisions.

The Conference was co-sponsored by the Boston University Health Law Department, the Center for Genetics and Society, the Illinois Institute of Science, Law and Technology, Global Lawyers and Physicians, and the Harvard University Ethics, Legal and Biotechnology Society. Special financial support for the conference was provided by the CS Fund and the Jennifer Altman Foundation.

The conference planning team was George Annas, Richard Hayes, Evelyne Shuster, Lori Andrews, and Patricia Baird. Key staff assistance was provided by Evelyne Shuster, the Boston University Health Law Department, and the Center for Genetics and Society.

Beyond Cloning website: <www.bumc.bu.edu/www/sph/lw/website/index.htm>

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