The American Association for the Advancement of Science has
long-anticipated report concerning human germline modification.
available at <http://www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/sfrl/germline/main.htm>.
The 20-person committee that prepared the report was dominated
people supportive of human germline engineering. A superficial
can give the impression that the report makes a case *against*
modification--and this is what media headlines about it have
000.htm>; Los Angeles Times, 9/19/00, p. A6; and San
Jose Mercury News,
9/19/00, p. 13A.)
Indeed, the initial sections of the report (see "Findings"
"Concerns" below) do present many of the reasons that
engineering is extraordinarily dangerous and ultimately unjustifiable.
However, a careful reading of the report shows that the expressed
concerns over safety, justice, and societal impacts are, in
used to legitimize final recommendations of just the sort favored
*proponents* of germline modification: creation of a "system
sight" that would promote "a national conversation"
on human germline
modification "for therapeutic and enhancement applications,
what conditions human research and application could proceed."
The report actually presents a list of topics that guidelines
human germline modification should address, including "Selecting
subjects to participate" in research, "Developing
consent process," and "Identifying the parameters
Nowhere in the report is the option of banning human germline
cation even considered. Nowhere are the bans that already exist
numerous countries even mentioned.
By acknowledging the real dangers of germline engineering,
conveys to readers that the authors are responsible and worthy
trust. Then, by ignoring the option of a ban, and by considering
instead a detailed set of procedural guidelines for regulating
line engineering in the event it were approved, the report subtly
to de-legitimize the intuitive rejection of germline engineering
most people share.
Over the past decade advocates of germline engineering have
establish themselves as the authoritative voices on this topic,
now in a position to dominate the "national conversation"
for which they
call. It is critical that people who are opposed to human germline
engineering and a techno-eugenic, post-human future prepare
this immensely consequential issue in the public arena.
A detailed critique of the AAAS report is in preparation. Information
how you can obtain a copy will be included in the next newsletter.
Verbatim excerpts from the report's Executive Summary follow:
[Begin verbatim exerpt]
Human Inheritable Genetic Modifications: Assessing Scientific,
Ethical, Religious and Policy Issues
Prepared by the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, September 2000
o The working group concluded that IGM [inheritable genetic
tion] cannot presently be carried out safely and responsibly
o The working group identified few scenarios where there was
alternative to IGM for couples to minimize the prospects that
offspring will have a specific genetic disorder.
o Guided by the theologians - mainline Protestant, Catholic
Jewish traditions - and ethicists on the working group, the
concluded that religious and ethical evaluations of IGM will
on the nature of the technology, its impact on human nature,
of safety and efficacy, and whether IGM is used for therapeutic
o To date, the private sector has played a prominent role in
funding of somatic genetic research, raising questions about
influence of commercial interests on the conduct of researchers
on the scope and direction of the research. Similar questions
likely to surface if IGM research and applications go forward.
o IGM might change attitudes toward the human person, the nature
human reproduction, and parent-child relationships. IGM could
prejudice against persons with disabilities. The introduction
of IGM in
a society with differential access to health care would pose
justice issues and could introduce new, or magnify existing,
o IGM for enhancement purposes is particularly problematic.
applications designed to produce improvements in human form
could widen the gap between the "haves" and the "have
nots" to an
unprecedented extent. Efforts to improve the inherited genome
might commodify human reproduction and foster attempt to have
children by "correcting" their genomes. Some types
applications might lead to the imposition of harmful conceptions
normality. The dilemma is that IGM techniques developed for
purposes are likely to be suitable for enhancement applications
Thus, going forward with IGM to treat disease or disability
it difficult avoid use of such interventions for enhancement
even when this use is considered ethically unacceptable.
o Even in advance of a decision about whether to proceed with
public body should be assigned responsibility to monitor and
research and developments in IGM.
o It is important to promote extensive public education and
to ascertain societal attitudes about proceeding with IGM and
a meaningful process for making decisions about the future of
o If a societal decision is made to proceed with IGM, a comprehensive
oversight mechanism should be put in place with authority to
IGM applications in both the public and private sectors.
o Before IGM can proceed, there must be a means in place for
the short- and long-term risks and benefits of such interventions.
Society must decide how much evidence of safety, efficacy, and
acceptance will be required before allowing human clinical trials
o Human trials of inheritable genetic changes should not be
until techniques are developed that meet agreed upon standards
and efficacy. [A long paragraph specifying those standards follows.
section concludes. . .] If it is shown at the full genome sequence
that the sequence of a functionally normal genome has been restored,
there will likely to no need for multi-generation evaluation.
o The role of market forces in shaping the future of IGM research
and applications should be carefully assessed to ensure that
attention is paid to public priorities and sensibilities.
o Existing conflict of interest guidelines governing research
[End verbatim exerpt]
be reviewed and, where appropriate, amended and vigorously enforced.
guidelines should specify when a financial interest in a commercial
venture is grounds for precluding an investigator's direct participation
in a clinical trial supported by that company.