Leading Article: Genetic Research to Eliminate Disease Should Not Be Prevented by Fear
WHO IS afraid of "designer babies"? James Watson, the Nobel prize- winning scientist who helped unravel the structure of DNA, will no doubt be accused of wanting to create genetically-modified superhumans. He is doing nothing of the sort. It is to be hoped that anyone who reads his actual words (see page 5) will better understand the ethical dilemmas that surround genetic science.
Mr Watson's argument for carrying out the kind of research that could enable people to alter the genes of their children to eliminate serious disease is a powerful one. If it is possible to identify and alter the genes that predispose people to childhood cancers or to adult Alzheimer's disease, why not do it?
There are two arguments commonly advanced for not even trying. One is the most risk-averse formulation of the precautionary principle, which is that scientists should not interfere directly in the genetic code of human beings for fear of unknown and unforeseeable consequences. Never mind that this is a line of argument that would have legislated against the use of electricity, the invention of the motor car or the development of plastics. Genetic engineering is held to be in a different category because it intervenes so directly in the evolution of the human race.
Mr Watson certainly has no patience with this view. "Never postpone experiments that have clearly defined future benefits for fear of dangers that cannot be quantified," he writes. Broadly, he is right, although sometimes science should be cautious. The BSE disaster was a reminder of the dangers of the unforeseen. Even if no one could have known of the prions that transmitted the disease, the benefits of feeding animal remains to herbivores were too slight to justify the practice. The potential benefits of genetic technology, however, are substantial.
The second argument against …
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Publication information: Article title: Leading Article: Genetic Research to Eliminate Disease Should Not Be Prevented by Fear. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: April 16, 2001. Page number: 3. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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