In the late 1990s, human biotechnologies once imagined as science fiction were becoming realities with unknown repercussions. Scientists were on the cusp of sequencing the human genome. Discussions of reproductive human cloning gained traction after the surprising announcement of the first cloned mammal, Dolly the Sheep.
The prospect of human genetic modification was on the rise. And despite technical differences, each new intervention posed similar questions: What does it mean to be human? Who has a right to define it in the advent of these emerging biotechnologies? And will these biotechnologies magnify existing social inequalities?
Some scientists and futurists seized the moment as an opportunity to advocate for human germline modifications and “enhancements” whose eugenic overtones were hard to ignore. Yet very few scientists and civil society organizations were providing an alternative voice to address these pressing questions.
That changed in 1998 when Richard Hayes and Marcy Darnovsky met each other at a progressive study group. Both Bay Area-based scholars and environmental activists and organizers, Hayes and Darnovsky had each done their own research, and shared concerns about how new human biotechnologies were opening the door to genetically-engineered futures without adequate mechanisms in place to inform the public, facilitate debate, and regulate these biotechnologies. In response, the two joined forces to create an organization to do just that: the Center for Genetics and Society (CGS).
Founded in September 2001, CGS advocates for socially responsible uses and effective governance of emerging human biotechnologies.To take up this task, CGS focuses on mobilizing scholars, social justice activists, scientists and bioethicists to help shape public debate and policies on biotechnologies with a particular focus on reproductive rights, as well as LGBTQ, disability, and racial justice. Our hope is that by bringing together a diverse network of key figures and organizations, CGS will continue fostering pivotal conversations that promote equity and foster broad societal consensus on how emerging human biotechnologies impact us all.