In this first issue of Genetic Crossroads for 2004, we begin
with the "Top Ten of 2003." These are our choices,
not in any order, of last year's key developments-some encouraging,
some sobering-for the ongoing efforts to bring human genetic
and reproductive technologies under responsible social control.
1. James Watson's halo askew at 50th anniversary of DNA
Spring 2003 marked a half-century since the determination of
the double-helix structure of DNA, as well as the publication
of a new book by James Watson timed to take advantage of the
predictable celebrations. Media coverage of these events was
overwhelmingly adulatory, but two important articles took a
sharper look at the man whose fame rests on the molecule, and
the industry and ideology it has spawned.
Lindee, "Watson's World," Science
Brave, "James Watson Wants to Build a Better Human,"
2. Libertarian bioethicists advocate embryo screening for
Several bioethicists close to the assisted reproduction industry
pressed the case last year for expanding the uses of the embryo
screening technique known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis,
or PGD. Introduced less than 15 years ago as a way to prevent
the births of children with lethal or gravely serious disorders,
PGD is being used and promoted for conditions that are less
and less serious. Some US fertility clinics now offer PGD for
sex selection for "family balancing." One bioethicist
urges that if a "gay gene" is found, parents be allowed
to choose the sexual orientation of their children. Bioethicist
Julian Savulescu has taken to baiting disability rights advocates,
many of whom are deeply wary of PGD, with titles such as "Why
we should allow people deliberately to create disabled children."
Savulescu's articles "Deaf
Lesbians, `designer disability,' and the future of medicine"
selection: the case for."
Robertson, "Extending preimplantation genetic diagnosis:
the ethical debate," Human Reproduction (abstract)
Dahl, "Should parents be allowed to use preimplantation
genetic diagnosis to choose the sexual orientation of their
children?" Human Reproduction (abstract)
3. US governors apologize for eugenic sterilizations
Efforts to uncover and acknowledge the history of involuntary
eugenic sterilizations in the United States gathered steam in
2003. Between the early 1900s and the 1970s, thirty-three states
had laws that allowed medical experts to sterilize about 60,000
people who were deemed "unfit to reproduce"-many of
them poor women of color, individuals considered "feeble-minded,"
and pregnant women who were unmarried. In March, California
became the fifth state to apologize for its eugenic sterilization
program, joining Virginia, Oregon, and North and South Carolina.
Their Will: North Carolina's Sterilization Program,"
an extraordinary five-part special report in the Winston-Salem
Tony Platt, "The Frightening Agenda of the American Eugenics
Markel, "The Ghost of Medical Atrocities: What's
Next, After the Unveiling?," New York Times
A. Lombardo, "Taking Eugenics Seriously: Three Generations
Of ??? Are Enough?," Florida State University Law Review
4. The Raelian cloning hoax
2003 began with the world media focused on the announcement
that an extraterrestrial-friendly cult had successfully cloned
a child. The Raelians never produced a baby, confirming widespread
suspicions that the claim amounted to a brilliant PR coup. Many
editorials and op-eds used the occasion to explore the social
and policy implications of human cloning.
Reaction to Raelian Cloning Claim, Genetic Crossroads
Darnovsky, "The Misstep of Human Cloning,"
San Francisco Chronicle
McKibben, "A Threat to Our Coherent Human Future,"
5. Critical books by Bill McKibben, Margaret Atwood, Jürgen
Habermas, Edwin Black, Daniel Callahan, Sheldon Krimsky
2003 saw the publication of several remarkable books that take
a hard look at the social, political, and cultural implications
of new genetic and reproductive technologies.
Crossroad's thumbnail reviews of Atwood's Oryx and Crake,
McKibben's Enough, and Habermas' The Future of Human
Platt's LA Times review of Black's War Against the Weak
with Callahan about What Price Better Health?
New York Times interviews Krimsky about Science in
the Private Interest
6. Mainstream marketing of social sex selection
A Virginia-based fertility clinic began aggressively marketing
an experimental sperm-sorting technique that allows parents
to choose the sex of their child with "direct-to-consumer"
marketing. Sex selection ads appeared repeatedly in the New
York Times and, in a pink-and-blue version, in United Airlines'
in-flight magazine Hemispheres. The ad campaign marks
the first time that a high-tech method for sex selection, and
its use for clearly social purposes, has been openly marketed
in mainstream US publications.
Darnovsky, "Sex Selection Moves to Consumer Culture,"
Darnovsky, "High-Tech Sex Selection: A New Chapter in the
7. UK regulatory agency recommends stronger rules on sex
Throughout 2003, the United Kingdom's Human Fertilization and
Embryology Authority conducted a public consultation on sex
selection. According to The Guardian, the agency "found
the public outraged by the idea." On November 12, HFEA
recommended that sex selection for social reasons be prohibited,
and that the government move to close an important loophole
in the regulation of sex selection.
story in Genetic Crossroads
Genetics Alert Campaign Briefing, "The case against sex
Boseley, "Public outrage prompts ban on baby sex selection,"
8. UN postpones discussion of a human cloning treaty
After two years of debate and no substantive action, the United
Nations voted on November 7, by the narrowest of margins, to
postpone any further consideration of proposals for an international
treaty to ban human cloning.
Special Report, "Human Cloning, the United Nations, and
9. Canada close to decision on comprehensive legislation
on assisted reproduction
A final Parliamentary vote that would give Canada a model regulatory
framework for assisted reproduction and human embryo research
was temporarily swept up in an unrelated change of Liberal party
leadership, and then put back on the legislative agenda last
week. The key provisions of the Human Reproduction Bill-including
bans on human reproductive and research cloning, inheritable
genetic modification, commercial surrogacy, and "non-medical"
sex selection-are backed by a majority of the public and of
lawmakers, as well as by major Canadian scientific organizations.
story in Genetic Crossroads
bill to be reintroduced," CNEWS
10. First major international civil society conference on
bringing the new human genetic and reproductive technologies
under social control
90 people from 70 organizations and 30 countries gathered for
three days during October in Berlin for Within and Beyond
the Limits to Human Nature: The Challenge of the New Human Genetic
Technologies. Conference participants included global health
equity activists, feminist and women's health leaders, disability
rights advocates, leaders from developing country NGOs, environmentalists,
religious social justice activists, policy experts, philosophers,
authors and others.
conference website, now public, contains information about
the program and participants, and a rich compilation of relevant
articles and other documents posted by participants
Special Report on the conference