Could genetic technologies set back efforts toward racial justice?

Press Statement

Public interest group issues report on race and human biotechnology


New and emerging genetic technologies may be hindering efforts towards racial justice, according to a new report issued by the Center for Genetics and Society, a public interest group. Playing the Gene Card? A Report on Race and Human Biotechnology [PDF] will be released on February 2 to coincide with the beginning of Black History Month. An advance copy of the report is available now.

We’re now well into what some have called the “Biotech Century,” and increasing numbers of DNA-based products are being promoted and sold. While many have important benefits, Playing the Gene Card? focuses on three applications that may have particular risks for African American and other minority communities:

Race-specific drugs may be more about marketing than medicine. The FDA has already approved one race-specific drug despite expert criticism, and more are in the pipeline.

Genetic ancestry tests are heavily promoted to African Americans, promising to reveal family histories lost in the slave trade. The pitch is compelling, but the science is limited and the marketing is misleading.

• Police and courts are increasingly relying on DNA forensics and DNA databases. Federal and state policies taking effect this year mean that more genetic profiles of innocent people – disproportionately from minority communities – will be collected and retained in vast DNA databases.

African American and other communities of color are on the front lines of these new biotechnology products and applications, taking risks but not necessarily getting benefits. Yet these effects have been largely overlooked. While recognizing the rewards of biotechnology, Playing the Gene Card? looks carefully at their downsides, and recommends ways to minimize them.

Playing the Gene Card? A Report on Human Biotechnology is published by the Center for Genetics and Society. Its author, Osagie Obasogie, is Senior Fellow at the Center for Genetics and Society and Associate Professor at the University of California’s Hastings Law School. Dr. Obasogie has written about the social implications of genetic, reproductive and biomedical technologies for popular audiences in publications including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and New Scientist.

Playing the Gene Card?’s preface is by Dorothy Roberts, noted legal scholar and author of the influential Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty.

The Center for Genetics and Society is a non-profit public affairs and policy advocacy organization working to encourage responsible uses and regulation of genetic, reproductive and biomedical technologies.

Marcy Darnovsky
1-510-625-0819 x305