> Dr. Marcy Darnovsky


> The Case Against Human Germline Engineering


>An influential network of prestigious scientists and others is now

>actively promoting human germline engineering--modifying the genes we

>pass on to our children. These advocates of "germline enhancement"

>anticipate a future in which affluent parents select their children's

>genes from a catalogue to give them an edge in the quest for success.

>Their techno-eugenic vision openly embraces the emergence of genetic

>castes and the abandonment of our commitments to human equality,

>portraying these outcomes as inevitable.


>Fortunately, reasonably bright lines separate the potentially

>beneficial applications of human genetic technology from those that

>lead to a techno-eugenic future. Legislation to enforce these

>distinctions is quite feasible; many countries--including Canada,

>Japan, and a number of European nations--have already implemented

>such laws. In the U.S., efforts by scientists, scholars, and social

>activists to oppose human germline manipulation are getting underway.


>For the past 12 months, Dr. Marcy Darnovsky has been involved in

>speaking, writing, and briefing key constituencies about the new

>human genetic and reproductive technologies. She teaches courses in

>the politics of science, technology, and the environment--including

>"Biotechnology and the Public Interest"--in the Hutchins School of

>Liberal Studies at Sonoma State University.

Dr. Darnovsky began her talk by getting a feel for where people are on the topic in their own lives. Then she explained one of the clear bright policy lines in the genetic engineering debate. There is the separation between somatic genetic engineering and germline genetic engineering. She emphasized the point by pointing out that her talk would be a success if each of us took that understanding home with us.

Somatic is defined as "of, relating to, or affecting the body, especially as distinguished from a body part, the mind, or the environment; corporeal or physical." It means the kind of genetic engineering that can be applied to one person. For example, there may be genetic engineering techniques that can be applied to an individual to cure cystic fibrosis. These would be designed to fix the respiratory mucus associated with the disease, and would not affect offspring.

Germline genetic engineering is the one with the most troubling implications. These would be modifications to the chromosomes of the human zygote that would shape the resulting person, and would breed true from there. There are already people that are building political movements to make this idea palatable to the general public, for example Lee Silver, the author of Remaking Eden: How Cloning and Beyond Will Change the Human Family has been on Nightline with Ted Koppel talking about the subject.

There are companies already doing work in the field. Storefronts doing quack nostrum versions as "family planning" could probably be regulated with little controversy. The problem comes from well funded genetic engineering companies who are looking for profitable ways to exploit this niche without waiting for the ethical debate to sort itself out. Dr. Darnovsky feels that if we are to avoid a techno-eugenic future, legislation and treaties are required.

At the beginning of the meeting, someone handed out copies of a paper discussing the topics of her talk in much more detail. The online resources listed in the bibliography are:

Web Sites Opposing Techno-Eugenics:

Council for Responsible Genetics, www.gene-watch.org

Campaign Against Human Genetic Engineering, www.users.g.obalnet.co.uk/~cahge

Genetic Engineering and it's Dangers, http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/gedanger.htm

Web Sites Supporting Techno-Eugenics:

UCLA Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society (Gregory Stock, director), http://research.mednet.ucla.edu/pmts/germline

Extropy Institute, www.extropy.org

Tian Harter