Designer Babies, Genetic Discrimination, and the Patenting of Human Life: The Perils Amidstthe Promise of the Biotech Revolution

StoryFebruary 06, 2002
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With the Enron scandal showing no signs of disappearing, politicians have begun sounding the call for legislativereform. In Congress, representatives have renewed their push for a campaign finance bill, and just last week, thePresident called for new safeguards for pension plans. He also raised his voice for corporate accountability.

But amidst all these calls for change and responsibility, at least one issue, central to Enron’s collapse, has gonelargely un-addressed. That issue is deregulation. Despite growing evidence of energy deregulation’s failure ­ forconsumers as well as stockholders ­ politicians have consistently avoided mentioning it. No bills have crossed theSenate floor, and the President has remained its staunchest supporter. The hard questions of the Enron debacle ­questions like what happens when you privatize an industry and then loosen controls ­ have simply not been asked.

Well, today on Democracy Now! we are going to examine some of these questions. But, in an expansion of the discussionbeyond Enron, we are going to look at them through the lens of the biotech industry, one of the fastest-growingindustries in the world. Many are calling it the new frontier, the industry that will pick up where the dot-comrevolution left off.

In June 2000, scientists announced that they had successfully “decoded” the human genome. The genome is thecollective genetic make-up of human beings, and its “decoding” has been heralded as one of the great scientificbreakthroughs in recent history. With it comes the promise of early diagnosis of disease, new and safer treatmenttherapies, and cures for illnesses like cancer and diabetes. But with the decoding of the genome there also comedangers. In the absence of public oversight and careful controls, the potential for misuse of these newbiotechnologies grows frighteningly real.

Two days ago, a group of scientists, community advocates, and policymakers came together to discuss some of theperils of the genomic revolution. They came from across the country for the “Human Genetics, Environment, andCommunities of Color: Ethical and Social Implications.” We go now to a speech from this conference by Dr. MarchDarnovsky. Its subject: “Cloning and Beyond: Social Justice and Species-Altering Technologies.”


  • Marcy Darnovsky, PhD., program director, Center for Genetics and Society. The Center for Genetics andSociety is a non-governmental information and advocacy center committed to encouraging socially responsiblegovernance of the new human genetic and reproductive technologies.


  • Rebecca Charnas, Council for Responsible Genetics: “No Patents on Life Campaign.” She is getting herdoctorate in molecular biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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