Why should I care?

It is very easy to sit back and think that everything will take care of itself, that someone, somewhere, is making sure that everything is being done properly. This is rarely the case. The power that the human genome project will give to doctors, insurance companies, employers, law enforcement and government is overwhelming and must be watched and scrutinized very carefully. No one can afford to think that someone else will take care of it.

All too often too much trust is placed in the hands of scientists that are disassociated from the world that we live in. Pharmaceutical companies are no better, they are going to be running to the profit line and government is not the best thing to rely on either. An excellent example of the naivete of scientists is seen in this quote from Robert Oppenheimer, a scientist involved with the Manhattan Project, while testifying before Congress in 1945 about the role of science in the development of the atomic bomb:

"When you come right down to it, the reason that we did this job is because it was an organic necessity. If you are a scientist, you cannot stop such a thing. If you are a scientist, you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest possible power to control the world..." (Rhodes 761).

The threats to society as a result of this project are many and are severe. They also are not being addressed with the amount of attention that they deserve. One to three percent of the budget for the U.S. project is being used to explore legal, ethical and moral concerns. This is very little considering there could be a threat of genetic cleansing, genetic discrimination and even less privacy than we enjoy today. The Wall Street Journal printed this reaction to the idea that the European Parliament was suggesting that some of the ethical questions be answered before the project proceeded:

"This, of course is a formula for making no progress at all. The Human Genome Initiative may well invite attack from those who are fearful of or hostile to the future. It should also attract the active support of those willing to defend the future."

It is possible that people could be excluded from society on the basis of their genes alone. How many employers would be willing to hire a person that is genetically predispositioned to Alzheimer's, heart attacks, alcoholism or any other disorder that would drain the money of a corporation and increase insurance costs? Colleges and universities are already crowded, it would be a convenient way to thin admissions if only the genetically intelligent were allowed in. These are just some of the issues as to why we should care. To see what the government is doing about this, follow the link in the bibliography for the Genetic Privacy Act and Commentary.

Christopher Myles cmyles@ufl.edu