On the Edge of the 'Genetic Divide'
"...all men are created
-- The Declaration of Independence --
Will that still be true in 20 years?
On February 8, 2000 President Clinton issued an Executive Order forbidding federal agencies from considering a person's "genetic information" in making hiring or job promotion decisions. In the context of this order, "genetic information" means...
- Information about a person's genetic tests
- Information about the genetic tests of members of a person's family
- Information about the occurrence of a disease, or medical condition or disorder in family members of the individual
In other words, the government cannot refuse to hire you because your genetic "fingerprint" shows a history of cancer or other disease in your family.
In still other words, the government recognizes that along with all the potential good of advanced genetic research, comes a lot of potential bad.
Promises of the Genome
Researchers in the US Human Genome Project coordinated by The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) hope to identify and decode all the more than 80,000 genes in human DNA by 2003.
Success of the Genome Project will lead to a "blueprint" of human life which, for better or worse, we can change.
"Erase that cancer." "Draw that life line longer."
Yes, we are talking "designer babies" genetically assured of perfect health over an average lifespan of over 100 years. Babies designed for speed, or smarts, or whatever you want, or whatever you can afford.
President Clinton is aware of the benefits of genetic engineering.
"...when we finish the mapping of the human genome, I think sometime early in the next century, we'll look at babies being born that have a life expectancy of nearly 100 years." -- President Clinton, Remarks on Health Care 12/7/1999
"Later this year, researchers will complete the first draft of the entire human genome, the very blueprint of life. It is important for all our fellow Americans to recognize that federal tax dollars have funded much of this research, and that this and other wise investments in science are leading to a revolution in our ability to detect, treat, and prevent disease." -- State of the Union Address 1/27/2000
President Clinton is also aware of the societal hazards of genetic engineering.
"The people being born today, if the human genome project works out right, might have a life expectancy of 100. But if that's true, in order to maintain their quality of life and their health and not bankrupt the hospitals, we'll have to keep more and more of them well with the proper kind of drug treatment programs." -- President Clinton, Interview by John Roberts of CBS News
"Now, this is a terrific thing; (100 year life expectancy) but in the short-run, it means that within 30 years, more or less, all of our societies will have only two people working for every one person retired -- challenge number one. Challenge number two, in spite of unprecedented economic prosperity in many places, there are still people and places that have been left behind. -- President Clinton at the Conference On Progressive Governance For the 21st Centruy, 11/20/1999
Will these be people who, for some reason, could not or would not become genetically advantage?
Like people who today find themselves "...left behind" by computer technology and standing on the have-not side of the "Digital Divide," will a significant portion of our future society find itself staring across a "Genetic Divide"?
This is not to imply that the Genome Project or genetic research in general is "evil" or bad for society. Researchers are fully aware of the ethical, legal, and social issues, and are working to deal with them. But the issues will come up and addressing them will almost certainly require government intervention.
It has taken over 200 years of Constitutional Amendments, laws, and court decisions just to establish "...that all men are create equal," after all.
The Digital Divide separates two sides of society:
Those who have computers and those who do not.
Enough money can bridge that gap.
A Genetic Divide would also separate two sides of society:
Those who will live long and prosper, and those who will not.
How much money do we have?
US Department of Energy
Human Genome Project
The U.S. Human Genome Project (HGP), composed of the DOE and NIH Human Genome Programs, is the national coordinated effort to characterize all human genetic material by determining the complete sequence of the DNA in the human genome.
Timeline of the Human Genome Project
They've been at it since 1983, but on December 1, 1999 the first human chromosome was completely sequenced.
Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues
of the Human Genome Project
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have devoted 3% to 5% of their annual Human Genome Program budgets toward studying the ethical, legal, and social issues. What are they?
Order Bans Genetic Discrimination
About President Clinton's Executive Order prohibiting federal agencies from considering a person's genetic information in hiring or promotion decisions. From your About.com Guide.
Money to Bridge the 'Digital Divide'
Details of proposed expenditures in the President's 2001 Federal Budget to extend computer knowledge and access to the Internet to the poor and minorities. From your About.com Guide.
|Related About.com Guide Resources|
Pondering The Medical Ethics of The Human Genome Project
About.com Guide to Neurosciences, Richard Schuerger looks at the legal and ethical implications of this massive effort to map all human genes.
Human Genome Project - Genetics Net Links
Web Resources to HUGO: The Human Genome Sequencing Project. from your About.com Guide to Genetics, Afsheen Abid.
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