Call for debate on gene ethics

June 16, 2000

The imminent completion of a first draft of the human genome heralds benefits for only a minority of the world, a newly formed scientific watchdog has warned.

The Campaign Against Human Genetic Engineering, set up by concerned British experts, is pressing for a debate on the ethical implications of the project.

The campaign called last Wednesday for gene patents to be rescinded, a ban on gene screening for insurance or employment and an end to funding for technologies that might be used for human genetic engineering.

The international Human Genome Project and American firm Celera Genomics are both expected to announce the first drafts of the human genetic sequence in the next few weeks. This is being greeted as one of the most significant milestones in science, ultimately revolutionising health care.

Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics and a founder member of the campaign, said: "The sequencing of the human genome is a marvellous achievement but it is unlikely to help the majority of mankind and has the potential to damage large numbers of people."

He said that insights into the mechanisms of disease would probably be its lasting positive legacy but other spin-offs, such as gene therapy and tailor-made pharmaceutical products, would be unaffordable for most.

David King, editor of GenEthics, warned that gene screening could be used to discriminate against people with particular genes, such as those showing a propensity to certain diseases or susceptibility to particular chemicals.

"We're already beginning to see a system where people are scientifically graded according to their genes in insurance or by some adoption agencies," he said.

Agnes Fletcher, head of communications at the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, said this raised the prospect of a return to eugenics.

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Board Member BOURNEMOUTH UNIVERSITY (MAIN OFFICE)

Most Commented

Elderly woman looking up at sky

A recent paper claims that the quality of researchers declines with age. Five senior scientists consider the data and how they’ve contributed through the years

Otto illustration (5 May 2016)

Craig Brandist on the proletarianisation of a profession and how it leads to behaviours that could hobble higher education

smiley, laugh, happy, funny, silly, face, faces

Scholars should cheer up and learn to take the rough with the smooth, says John Tregoning

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration 19 May 2016

Tim Blackman’s vision of higher education for the 21st century is one in which students of varying abilities learn successfully together

James Minchall illustration (12 May 2016)

An online experiment proves that part of the bill for complying with the Freedom of Information Act is self-inflicted, says Louis Goddard