Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Autonomous Consumers

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Autonomous Consumers

Article excerpt

Are there genetic technologies that biotech companies could profitably produce, but ought not? That was one of the questions asked by both critics and prominent members of the biotech industry at a May conference in Boston cosponsored by Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R) and the Tufts University School of Medicine.

Elliot Hillback (CEO of Integrated Genetics, Framingham, Mass.) responded that "good ethics and good profits are exactly congruent." He explained that it is good business to respect the "autonomy, privacy, and confidentiality" of consumers; if companies do that, the market can do the rest.

Not all of the meeting participants, however, were as sanguine about letting the market determine the new genetic technologies.

James M. Wilson (director of the Institute for Human Gene Therapy, University of Pennsylvania), suggested that we can no longer take comfort in the belief that, for example, manipulation of the germ line poses too many technical problems to be feasible and that thus questions about its sale are moot. He predicted that within his lifetime human germline therapy will be feasible--and thus, of course, saleable.

Nor can we any longer take comfort in the belief that we have sufficiently learned from the past never again to practice eugenics. Phillip Reilly (executive director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, Waltham, Mass.) suggested that if we think only of earlier twentieth-century eugenic practices, we fail to recognize our own eugenic use of prenatal diagnostic technologies to screen out fetuses deemed undesirable.

And if Gary Hodgen (president of the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine, Norfolk, Va.) is right, within a handful of years we will be able to do preimplantation embryo screening for traits such as height, hair pattern, hair color, eye color, and the like. …

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