On Fri, 4 Feb 2000, Ivan wrote:

> I think this is very good.  I hope the final draft can generate some publicity
> since almost every item in the news that concerns genetic engineering bubbles
> over with how this technology is going to "improve" life.  I think it is crucial
> that the public hear the other side and hear it often.
> One addition that I can't articulate to my satisfaction is that germline
> engineering may be frought with more danger than we may be able to understand
> until generations after the damage has been done.

Agreed - but this is a problem not just with germline engineering, but
also with 'gene therapies' in general. The public is being sold a message
which oversimplifies the genetic picture radically - the old, simple 'gene
-> disease', 'fix gene -> fix disease' picture. The hype surrounding the
sequencing of vast amounts of human (and non-human) DNA (which only gains
media presence with the race between public and Celera efforts to complete
the genetic sequence) creates the impression that a full understanding of
the function of human DNA is close.

As anyone working in the field will know, that is not the case. From the
question of the regulatory system, to the function of non-coding features
(the vast proportion of the genome which doesn't code for proteins, and
the many, often large, 'introns' which are snipped out of RNA by the
cell's genetic machinery), to the interactions between different
proteins in the body, there is a lot we don't know.

While I am excited by the possibility that one day we will be able to
understand this stuff, and push back the frontiers of the 'inevitable
suffering' of human existence, I am not looking forward to what will
happen in the modern pharmaceuticals giants get going with gene therapies.
Simplistic 'science' in the quest for profit is inevitable.

Unfortunately scientists are in a catch-22: on the one hand we need to put
forward a voice questioning blind faith in 'scientific progress', on the
other, we need to develop science to fight the modern superstitions of
'evolutionary biology' and the like.

My feeling is that we need to fight the many 'technical-industrial
complexes' both from without, by petitions like this, laws such as a ban
on gene-patenting, etc. - and from within:  organising science-workers
into unions (both to protect science-workers from exploitation, and to
develop feelings of solidarity and common endeavour with other workers),
fighting for the chance to do ethical, pro-humanity research, etc.

It is a collosal fight - and one which can only be won by linking
scientists with non-scientists, and the fight within 'Science' with the
struggle to transform the world.

A Luta Continua!
Peter van Heusden : [log in to unmask] : PGP key available
Criticism has torn up the imaginary flowers from the chain not so that man
shall wear the unadorned, bleak chain but so that he will shake off the
chain and pluck the living flower. - Karl Marx
           NOTE: I do not speak for the HGMP or the MRC.