Quotes from the supporters of germ line engineering

Anderson's proposal was submitted following a symposium held in March of this year at UCLA, entitled "Engineering the Human Germ Line" . The symposium was organized by Dr. Gregory Stock, director of UCLA's Program on Science, Technology and Society. He saw the symposium as the kick-off of a campaign "to make it [germline engineering] acceptable" to the American people. Along with Stock and Anderson, key speakers at the symposium included: James Watson (Nobel laureate, co-describer of DNA), Lee Silver (molecular biologist, Princeton University) LeRoy Hood (founding Chair, Dept. of Molecular Biotechnology, Washington State University) John Fletcher (bioethicist, author of "The Ethics of Genetic Control: Ending Reproductive Roulette"). Nearly 1000 people attended the symposium. A full report of the symposium is here.

After the conference Gregory Stock proposed a set of eight Public Policy Recommendations, which he described as being "in general alignment with the thrust of the symposium". The most important recommendations were that:

1. "The RAC should revise current policies and agree to entertain germline\par proposals."

2. "The United States should resist any efforts by UNESCO or other international bodies to block the exploration of human germline engineering."

3. "No state or federal legislation to regulate germline gene therapy should be passed at this time."

Quotes from advocates of human genetic engineering

James Watson: "I just can't indicate how silly I think it [the sanctity of the human gene pool] is. I mean, sure, we have great respect for the human species. We like each other. We'd like to be better, and we take great pleasure in great achievements by other people. But evolution can be just damn cruel, and to say that we've got a perfect genome and there's some sanctity to it, I'd just like to know where that idea comes from. It's utter silliness. And the other thing, because no one really has the guts to say it, I mean, if we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn't we do it?"

In his recent book, Re-Making Eden (1998), Lee Silver celebrates the coming future of "reprogenetic" human enhancement, in which the health, appearance, personality, cognitive ability, sensory capacity, and life-span of our children all become artifacts of genetic manipulation, literally selected from a catalog. Silver acknowledges that the costs of these technologies will limit their full use to only a small portion of Americans, so that over time society will segregate into the "GenRich" and the "Naturals":

"The GenRich - who account for 10 percent of the American population - all carry synthetic genes... that were created in the laboratory ...All aspects of the economy, the media, the entertainment industry, and the knowledge industry are controlled by members of the GenRich class...Naturals work as low-paid service providers or as laborers, and their children go to public schools... If the accumulation of genetic knowledge and advances in genetic enhancement technology continue ... the GenRich class and the Natural class will become...entirely separate species with no ability to cross-breed, and with as much romantic interest in each other as a current humans would have for a chimpanzee." (pp 4-7).

This obscene account is NOT offered by Silver in order to motivate opposition--quite the contrary. He continues:

"Many think that it is inherently unfair for some people to have access to technologies that can provide advantages while others, less well-off, are forced to depend on chance alone... (But) American society adheres to the principle that personal liberty and personal fortune are the primary determinants of what individuals are allowed and able to do. Anyone who accepts the right of affluent parents to provide their children with an expensive private school education cannot use "unfairness" as a reason for rejecting the use of reprogenetic technologies. Indeed, in a society that values individual freedom above all else, it is hard to find any legitimate basis for restricting the use of reprogenetics... I will argue (that) the use of reprogenetic technologies is inevitable. It will not be controlled by governments or societies or even the scientists who create it. There is no doubt about it...whether we like it or not, the global marketplace will reign supreme." (pp 9-11)

Dr. Stock offers an almost identical vision of the human future in his book, METAMAN: The Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism:"

"By applying biological techniques to embryos and then to the reproductive process itself, Metaman will take control of human evolution.. Once people begin to reshape themselves through biological manipulation,...the definition of "human" begins to drift. Altering even a small number of the key genes regulating human growth might change human beings into something quite different...Competitive pressures within Metaman will ensure the spread of any useful ways of significantly enhancing human capabilities. Populations that adopt such techniques will generally outdistance those that do not, just as has been the case with other technologies. The computer has become a necessity for modern society, and if a process were developed to triple human intelligence or to enable people to get along with no sleep, these too would soon become 'necessities'. Such changes will not be painless. Like all major developments, they will cause great stresses within society. But asking whether such changes are 'wise' or 'desirable' misses the essential point that they are largely not a matter of choice; they are the unavoidable product of the technological advance intrinsic to Metaman." (pp 168-199).

With thanks to Rich Hayes from the Council for Responsible Genetics