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New Comments on Human Genetic Modification by Noted Figures: James
Watson, Daniel Wikler, Gregory Stock

Genetic Crossroads
December 7th, 2000

o Nobel laureate James Watson, widely known for his co-discovery of
the structure of DNA, told a startled UC Berkeley audience in October
that skin color is biochemically linked to sexual activity, and thinness
to ambition.

According to a member of the audience, Watson "showed slides of women
in bikinis and contrasted them to veiled Muslim women, to suggest that
controlling exposure to sun may suppress sexual desire and vice versa."
Explaining that thin people are unhappy and therefore more ambitious,
he said, "Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you
know you're not going to hire them."

Watson's remarks were reported several weeks later on the front page of
the San Francisco Chronicle. According to the article, they were brought
"into the public spotlight" by graduate students in the molecular biology
department who had found Watson's talk "profoundly disturbing." Several
UC faculty members "branded his remarks as racist, sexist and unsupported
by any scientific data." UC Berkeley biologist Michael Botchan, who
presided over the session, said that Watson advanced his hypothesis with
"comments that were crude and sexist and potentially racist." Botchan
said he doesn't think Watson is racist or sexist, but merely insensitive.
(Tom Abate, "Nobel Winner's Theories Raise Uproar in Berkeley," 11/13/00.
Use the "search" function at <www.sfgate.com/chronicle>.)

o Daniel Wikler, Staff Ethicist for the World Health Organization and
professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison,
said in October that the completion of the human genome project would
make it possible to promote some genetic qualities such as intelligence
and lower the incidence of others, and that the state of a nation's gene
pool should be subject to government policies. Wikler made these comments
at the Third Menzies Scholar Symposium in Australia. "The question of
whether there should be a state genetic policy. . .is not one that can be
answered. . .with a simple 'no'," he said. "It may be conceivably required
by justice itself." (From <http://www.theage.com.au>.)

Wikler is co-author of a new book, From Chance to Choice: Genetics &
Justice (Allen Buchanan, Dan W. Brock, Norman Daniels, & Daniel Wikler,
Cambridge University Press, 2000). The four bioethicists believe that
engineering the human germline is both inevitable and at least in some
cases desirable. Unlike most other advocates, they argue for state
intervention in human genetic manipulation, rather than for a "free-
market" consumer eugenics. Their book is also remarkable for the way
its title appropriates the language of reproductive rights--blurring
the enormous difference between ending an unwanted pregnancy and
manipulating the genetic makeup of a future child. For a review of the
book that accepts its premise of the inevitability of human germline
engineering, see Martha C. Nussbaum, Brave Good World, The New Republic,
12/4/00 <www.thenewrepublic.com/120400/nussbaum120400_print.html>.

o The technology to modify the genes we pass on to our children will
be available within 10 to 20 years, according to Gregory Stock, a key
figure in the campaign to promote human germline engineering. Stock
was addressing the annual meeting of the American Society for Human
Reproduction in San Diego in October, reportedly the world's largest
ever gathering of fertility experts. His remarks included the assertion
that parents will "want to weed out children who would turn out to be
obese or mentally retarded" by using pre-implantation genetic screening.
"This is the beginning of the end of sex as the way we reproduce,"
Stock predicted. "We will still have sex for pleasure, of course, but
we will view our children as too damn important to leave it to a random
meeting of sperm and eggs." (Michael Hanlon, "Why You Won't Need to
Have Sex to Make a Baby, The Montreal Express, October 25, 2000,


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