Inequality, Democracy and the New Human Biotechnologies

Inequality, Democracy and the New Human Biotechnologies

Event poster

co-sponsored by:

Center for Genetics and Society
The Century Foundation

On July 15, 2004, nearly 130 participants gathered at the Century Foundation in New York City to discuss the challenges to equality and democracy posed by the advent of powerful new human biotechnologies. The symposium was co-sponsored by Demos, the Center for Genetics and Society, and the Century Foundation.

A report on the symposium follows. It contains:

Hosts and speakers
Photographs and publicity
Presentation summaries
Transcript of the presentations and discussion


Many applications of the new human biotechnologies could lead to new ways of preventing and curing disease, but others could encourage new forms of discrimination and exclusion. Still others open the door to a high-tech consumer eugenics that could undermine societal commitments to equality and democracy. Policies governing the new human biotechnologies are thin, and few civil constituencies have identified these technologies as topics of priority concern. If we are to ensure that beneficial applications are available to all and that applications harmful to either individuals or society are effectively regulated or prohibited, it is imperative that these issues be more fully engaged by concerned opinion and policy leaders, and by broad popular constituencies.

Hosts and speakers (click on a name for a speaker bio)


David Callahan, Director of Research, Demos

Leif Wellington Haase, Health Fellow, The Century Foundation


Marsha Tyson Darling, Ph.D., Professor of History & Interdisciplinary Studies and Director, Center for African-American and Ethnic Studies, Adelphi University

Richard Hayes, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Genetics and Society

Sheldon Krimsky, Ph.D., Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy & Planning, Tufts University; author, Science and the Private Interest

Susan Lindee, Ph.D., Professor of History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania; author, Mome
nts of Truth: Genetic Disease in American Culture

Photographs - Click for larger image

Century Foundation health fellow Leif Wellington Haase (red tie) introduces the presenters

Tufts professor Sheldon Krimsky


CGS executive director Richard Hayes

Adelphi professor Marsha Tyson Darling


University of Pennsylvania professor Susan Lindee

symposium participants


symposium participants


event postcard

event announcement in The Village Voice

Presentation summaries- Click here

Transcript of the presentation and discussion - Click here


Texts Addressing Inequality, Democracy and the New Human Biotechnologies

Although the possibility that the development and use of new human biotechnologies might greatly increase inequality in the world has long been a pervasive topic of concern among those addressing the social implications of these technologies, few texts focus specifically on that topic. Even fewer focus specifically on the implications that the use of these technologies holds for the future of democratic political systems.

At the same time, an extensive literature exists concerning the impacts that the new human biotechnologies could have on particular communities and constituencies, and in ways that could exacerbate existing inequalities or subvert democratic decision-making.

Examples of texts that focus critically on the relationships between inequality, democracy and the new human biotechnologies include:

Richard Hayes, "Inequality, Democracy and the New Human Biotechnologies: A Threshold Challenge for the 21st Century." This is an expanded version of the presentation given at the July 2004 symposium.

George J. Annas. 2001. "Genism, Racism, and the Prospect of Genetic Genocide," presented at the World Conference Against Racism, Durban, South Africa.

Jonathan Beckwith. 1999. "Cloning Serves the Interests of Those in Power," Cloning: For and Against, M. L. Rantala and Arthur J. Milgram, eds. (Chicago: Open Court).

Jonathan M. Berkowitz. 1999. "Sexism and racism in preconceptive trait selection," Fertility and Sterility (Vol. 71, No. 3) 415-417.

Marsha Tyson Darling. 2002. "Eugenics Unbound: Race, Gender and Genetics." Presented at the conference Gender, Justice and the Gene Age, May 6-7, New York City.

Troy Duster. 1990. Backdoor to Eugenics. (New York: Routledge)

Richard Hayes. 2004. "Selective Science," TomPaine.Com (February 12)

Sheldon Krimsky. 1991. Biotechnics and Society: The Rise of Industrial Genetics. (New York: Praeger).

Mawell J. Mehlman and Jeff Botkin. 1998. Access to the Genome: The Challenge to Equality. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Jedediah S. Purdy. 1998. "Dolly and Madison: State of the debate," The American Prospect (Vol. 58 May-June) 88-94.


Two websites contain numerous documents that address equality and democracy issues in a variety of contexts:

The site for the conference Gender, Justice and the Gene Age, held on May 6-7, 2004, at the Ford Foundation in New York City:

The site for Within and Beyond the Limits of Human Nature, A Working Conference on the Challenges of the New Human Genetic Technologies, held on October 12-15, 2003, in Berlin, Germany:


To receive regular updates on important developments concerning the new human genetic technologies, you can subscribe to Genetic Crossroads, the monthly electronic newsletter of the Center for Genetics and Society.

"The breadth of biotechnological interventions raises moral questions that are not simply difficult in the familiar sense but are of an altogether different kind…The new technologies make a public discourse on the right understanding of cultural forms of life in general an urgent matter."

- Jurgen Habermas, The Future of Human Nature (Polity Press, 2003)