Brussels, 09 Apr 2003
It is up to individuals and not governments to decide how their genes should be used, claimed Nobel Prize winner and co-discoverer of DNA, James Watson, on 8 April.
Speaking at the world life sciences forum in France, Dr Watson said that governments or religious figureheads have no right to impose rules and regulations on the personal choices made by individuals regarding genetics.
'We are the product of our genes. No one else is going to take care of us or give us rules for how to behave except ourselves,' he said. 'We're too multi-cultural to say we know how other people should behave. The state should stay out of genetics.'
There has been much debate in recent years about the ethical dangers of genetic engineering, but according to Dr Watson, it is only natural that parents would wish to genetically enhance certain characteristics like the height of their children. 'Civilisation is about giving people the right to try and improve things. We're going against human nature if we say we can't improve,' he said.
With regards to reproductive cloning however, Dr Watson felt that the risks of birth defects were quite considerable due to insufficiently developed technology.
Furthermore, while cloning might be beneficial for couples that are infertile, Dr Watson said that the benefits of reproductive cloning have still not been fully explored. 'You might have a ban on multiple cloning. Fifty of the same people in London would be awkward.'
However, other participants at the conference did not share Mr Watson's opinion. In particular, Nobel laureate, Paul Nurse rejected Dr Watson's claims, arguing that society as a whole, rather than just individuals, should be allowed discuss the complex issues raised by gene research.
'I would rather see a great social and political debate, rather than simply putting the information out there and just letting individuals make decisions,' said Sir Nurse.