Daily Journal Article

From: zero_powers@hotmail.com
Date: Mon Jul 17 2000 - 23:11:50 MDT

Daily Journal Article
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Speaking of eugenics and such, I came across this article some may find of interest.

Not the Holy Grail of -- Biology -- Mapping Our Genomes May Lead to Battles About Use of The Findings
Daily Journal - Jul 6, 2000
Columnist FORUM

The announcement of a rough draft of the human genome could be a moment for celebrating our common humanity. Page 6.

By Alexander Morgan Capron
The announcement that a rough draft of the human genome has been deciphered has created enormous excitement among scientists. Still, this isn't yet what some have termed "biology's Holy Grail," but just the beginning of trying to understand both what the 3 billion units of DNA that make up the human genome do and the legal, social and personal implications of the genome model.
The metaphor "human genetic blueprint" that many gene mappers use to describe their findings suggests the fundamental misconception that a genetic map can foretell what an individual will be like, just as those talented at reading architectural blueprints can visualize what the finished building will look like. However, knowing a person's DNA won't provide such foreknowledge. In and of themselves, genes have no meaning. They matter only as they function in living organisms, where their effects depend on the environment.
The most fanciful version of this genes-determine-all philosophy is the view that, in the future, to know a person, all you'll need is a computer disk spelling out the DNA of that person's genome. However, genetic determinism is not merely scientifically false but, if translated into social policy or absorbed into popular thought, horribly destructive to mankind and society.
In the past several decades, it has become increasingly clear that human capabilities are malleable much longer after childhood than had previously been thought. Even more striking, genetically identical animals exposed to the same laboratory conditions can differ greatly (for example, in life span), apparently randomly.
Nonetheless, we have a long and very sad history of exaggerating the importance of genetics. In the early years of the last century, eugenics programs were adopted across the United States based on the view that certain people were "unfit" and should be prevented or discouraged from reproducing. The characteristics that were said to have genetic causes, such as larceny and "thalassophilia" (love of the sea), may sound ridiculous today, but it would be a mistake to attribute the problem back then to just bad science.
The Nazi excesses so discredited state-run eugenics programs that we may think ourselves immune to repeating such blatant genetic determinism. Yet milder forms may still prove to be seductive alternatives to the frustrations we face in trying both to understand the causes of our social problems and to marshal the resources to ameliorate them.
How tempting then to dismiss such efforts as unnecessary and to focus instead on a "genetic instruction book" for mankind or, more pointedly, for certain subgroups rather than grappling with poverty, poor schools, dirty environments and lack of opportunity.
Nor will the misuse of genetic information be limited to the government. If anything, the gathering and use of genetic data will be easier for employers, insurers and other private parties. And who is going to distinguish between "good" and "bad" genes?
Unlike other health-related information, a genetic finding about one person has direct implications about the genes of his or her relatives. Since the mapping of the human genome will produce new treatments much more slowly than we can discover disease-predisposing genes, the major effect of the Human Genome Project could be that certain groups will be exposed to discrimination based on their newly discovered genes. Of course, such worries could have the opposite effect of stimulating better protection for medical records as well as prompt health care reform to ensure that no one lacks adequate coverage.
The findings from the genome-mapping project could have another great benefit: helping to overthrow our long preoccupation with the issue of "race." The accumulating human genome data reinforce the scientific conclusion that what we think of as race is entirely a social construct. Certain superficial characteristics, such as hair and skin, are associated with geographic origins, but people in groups that are differentiated along these lines are indistinguishable when most other genes are examined. Indeed, the range of genetic variation is greater within such population groups than between them.
The idea of "racial purity," as exemplified in the Balkans today or in statutes designed to limit immigration of the eastern and southern European "races" in the early 1900s, has no basis in genetics. The announcement that a rough draft of the human genome is now in hand could thus be a moment for celebrating our common humanity.
And it is also a time to remember that our DNA is just the starting point. Our lives don't emerge according to a predestined path but develop in unpredictable ways based on the advantages and obstacles we face and the choices we make individually, in our families and as a community.
Alexander Morgan Capron is a professor of law and medicine at the University of Southern California and co-director of its Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics.

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