Along with David King in the U.K., and Rich Hayes and Marcy Darnovsky at
U.C. Berkeley, I have drafted the statement below as part of an
international campaign against human germline genetic engineering. I am
distributing it through this listserve to get an idea of the level of
enthusiasm among socially engaged scientists and physicians for such an
Although there are clearly problems with the way that attempted somatic gene
therapies are being conducted, this statement only addresses itself to
germline protocols, which have not yet been attempted in humans.
Please do not circulate the statement beyond this list, since it is still in
draft form, and we want to eventually distribute a standard version. Note
that signatories would not have to endorse all the stated arguments equally.
Please let me know if you could sign on to such a statement. Positive
responders at this time will not be considered official signatories.
Stuart A. Newman, Ph.D.
Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy
Basic Science Building
New York Medical College
Valhalla, NY 10595
Tel: (914) 594-4048
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
Scientists' and Physicians' Statement on Human Germline Engineering
Genetic engineering of the human germline--the deliberate
genetic changes in human embryos which are passed on to future
generations--is being proposed as a means to eradicate disease and
disability, and to "improve" the human species. The undersigned scientists
and physicians find one or more of the following reasons sufficiently
compelling to cause us to strongly oppose attempts at human germline
First, there is no medical need for human germline engineering.
often presented as a means to prevent gene-related disease, germline
engineering for this purpose is rendered pointless by the existence of
options such as adoption and artificial insemination, and prenatal and
pre-implantation genetic testing. Germline engineering would be the
technology of choice only if the goal was so-called genetic enhancement.
Second, attempts to use germline engineering to prevent disease and
disability could engender and encourage efforts to genetically "enhance" the
performance, appearance and other traits of our offspring. The development,
application, and control of powerful eugenic technologies would pose serious
societal risks, even in the absence of coercive measures. We are acutely
aware of the involvement of scientists and doctors in past abuses
implemented in the name of eugenics.
Third, the risks inevitably entailed in germline engineering would
medically irresponsible given the availability of simpler and safer
alternative procedures. Manipulating human genetic material at early stages
of development could induce irreversible harm to that individual, its
offspring, and subsequent generations. The unpredictability of embryo gene
manipulation would make it an unacceptably high-risk technique, no matter
how reliably it may be performed in non-human species.
Fourth, while prevention of disease is a laudable goal, we are
that the development of technologies aimed at the elimination of
gene-related disabilities may be driven partly by prejudice against disabled
people and the lack of adequate societal support for disabled children and
Fifth, by genetically engineering our children we would turn them
into artifacts produced according to our design specifications. The
potential impact of this on human relationships, on concepts of human
rights, and on the experience of human identity is ominous.
Finally, we believe that human germline engineering would bring
medicine into disrepute and harm promising fields of medical research.
Support for therapeutically unjustifiable and ethically misguided
applications of hard-won biological knowledge is not compatible with the
responsible pursuit of science and the practice of medicine.