Issue: May-June, 1998(TIKKUN)
EUGENICS ON THE EVE OF THE BIOTECH CENTURY
the twentieth century was shaped largely by the spectacular breakthroughs
in the fields of physics and chemistry, the twenty-first century will belong
to the biological sciences. Scientists around the world are quickly deciphering
the genetic code of life, unlocking the mystery of millions of years of biological
evolution on Earth. Global life science companies, in turn, are beginning
to exploit the new advances in biology in a myriad of ways, laying the economic
framework for the coming Biotech Century.
are the raw resource of the new economic epoch and are already being used
in a variety of business fields - including agriculture, animal husbandry,
energy, bioremediation, building and packaging materials, pharmaceuticals,
and food and drink - to fashion a bio-industrial world. Nowhere is the new
genetic commerce likely to have a bigger impact, however, than in human medicine.
For the first time in history, scientific tools are becoming available to
manipulate the genetic instructions in human cells. Human gene screening and
therapy raise the very real possibility that we might be able to engineer
the genetic blueprints of our own species and begin to redirect the future
course of our biological evolution on Earth. The new gene splicing techniques
will make it potentially possible to transform individuals and future generations
into "works of art," continually updating and editing their DNA
codes to enhance physical and mental health. Breakthroughs in genetic technology
are bringing us to the edge of a new eugenics era with untold consequences
for present and future generations and for civilization itself.
less than seven years, the global life science companies will hold patents
on most of the 100,000 genes that make up the human race as well as patents
on the cell lines, tissues, and organs of our species, giving them unprecedented
power to dictate the terms by which we and future generations will live our
lives. The concentration of power in the global pharmaceutical industry has
already reached staggering proportions. The world's ten major pharmaceutical
companies currently control 47 percent of the $197 billion pharmaceutical
market. The implications of a new market-driven eugenics are enormous and
far reaching. Indeed, commercial eugenics could become the defining social
dynamic of the new century.
the next ten years, molecular biologists say they will locate specific genes
associated with several thousand genetic diseases. In the past, a parent's
genetic history provided some clues to genetic inheritance, but there was
still no way to know for sure whether specific genetic traits would be passed
on. In the future, the guesswork will be increasingly eliminated, posing a
moral dilemma for prospective parents. Parents will have at their disposal
an increasingly accurate readout of their individual genetic make-ups, and
will be able to predict the statistical probability of a specific genetic
disorder being passed on to their children as a result of their biological
avoid the emotional anguish of such decisions, some young people are likely
to opt for prevention and avoid marrying someone of the wrong "genotype"
for fear of passing along serious genetic diseases to their offspring. Already,
part of the Orthodox Jewish community in the United States has established
a nationwide program to screen all young Jewish men and women for Tay-Sachs
disease. Every young Jew is encouraged to take the test. The results are made
available in an easily accessible database to allow young eligible men and
women to choose their dating partners with genotype in mind.
ethicists argue that such programs will become far more commonplace, placing
a "genetic stigma" on young people. There's ample precedent for
concern. Researchers report that when sickle cell anemia was screened for
in Greece, nearly 23 percent of the population was found to have the trait.
Fearing stigmatization, many of the carriers concealed their test results,
believing that public exposure would seriously jeopardize their marriage prospects.
researchers at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center recently discovered a genetic
alteration in one out of every six Jews of Eastern European ancestry that
doubles their risk of getting colon cancer, many in the Jewish community began
to express their concern that the Jewish population might be singled out and
made the object of discrimination. The news of the "Jewish" cancer
gene came on top of other discoveries linking breast and ovarian cancer, cystic
fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, Gauchers, and Canavan's disease to Jewish blood lines.
Of course, scientists point out that other groups are likely to have just
as many genetic links to specific diseases, but that the Jewish population
has received the most attention to date because "they constitute a well
defined, easily identifiable and closely related community - exactly the kind
that allows geneticists to start identifying disease-causing genes."
Still, the explanations of the researchers were not enough to calm an anxious
Jewish community who began to vent their feelings publicly. Amy Rutkin, the
director of American affairs for Hadassah, the nation's largest Jewish membership
organization, reported that in the aftermath of the colon cancer discovery,
the organization has been "receiving phone calls indicating a certain
amount of fear and confusion." Rutkin said that "people are asking,
is too much research focused on the Jewish community and are we at risk of
professionals worry about genetic stigmatization and especially the prospect
of selecting potential mates based on genotyping, but argue that it is still
less onerous than selective abortion or sentencing a newborn to premature
death or a life of chronic or debilitating illness. Not surprising, there
is increasing talk of government mandated genetic testing of couples seeking
marriage licenses. Even without a government requirement, it's likely that
a growing number of potential marriage partners will want their future partner
screened before committing themselves to a life-long relationship.
genetic screening is already here, human genetic engineering - gene therapy
- is just around the corner. Genetic manipulation is of two kinds. In somatic
therapy, intervention takes place only within non-sex (somatic) cells and
the genetic changes do not transfer into the offspring. In germ line therapy,
genetic changes are made in the sperm, egg or embryonic cells, and are passed
along to future generations. Somatic gene surgery has been carried out in
limited human clinical trials for more than seven years. Germ line experiments
have been successfully carried out on mammals for more than a decade and researchers
expect the first human trials to be conducted within the next several years.
Despite years of favorable media reports on various somatic gene therapy experiments and the high expectations voiced by the medical establishment and the biotech industry, the results have, thus far, been so disappointing that the NIH itself was recently forced to acknowledge the fact and issue a sober warning to scientists conducting the experiments to stop making promises that cannot be kept. In an extensive survey of all 106 clinical trials of experimental gene therapies conducted over the past five years involving more than 597 patients, a panel of experts convened by the NIH reported that "clinical efficacy has not been definitively demonstrated at this time in any gene therapy protocol, despite anecdotal claims of successful therapy." Even Dr. Leroy B. Walters, a philosophy professor at Georgetown University and the chairperson of the NIH oversight committee that reviewed and approved all of the clinical trials, remarked in a moment of candor that he and the committee had not seen "any solid results yet" after years of experiments. Still, many of the staunchest supporters of the new gene therapies remain convinced that the techniques will bear fruit as methodologies and procedures are honed and new knowledge of the workings of the genes become more available to researchers and clinicians.
2001 by Team C0123260
The Legenders , RJC, Singapore