ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  8 December 2000


Welcome to the Techno-Eugenics Email Newsletter Number 13 - December 7, 2000

Supporting genetic science in the public interest
Opposing the new techno-eugenics

I.    NEWS
1.    Netherlands Bank Code: No Funds for Human Genetic Modification
2.    Human Cloning Effort by Religious Group Reportedly to Begin
3.    New Comments on Human Genetic Modification by Noted Figures: James Watson,
       Daniel Wikler, Gregory Stock
4.    Lawsuit in Gene Therapy Death Settled; Suspended Experiment Allowed to Resume
5.    Embryo Cloning Debate Grows in Europe and UK
6.    New Push for In Utero Gene Transfer


1.    Wild Duck Review
2.     James Watson and Matt Ridley in San Francisco February 8

* * *

1. Netherlands Bank Code: No Funds for Human Genetic Modification

A Netherlands financial institution, the Rabobank Group, has published a “draft code of conduct regarding genetic modification” that says in part, “The Rabobank Group will not finance or become involved in the genetic modification and cloning of people.” The code also states that the “bank will, in principle, not finance genetic modification of animals either, unless the risks are acceptable from a scientific point of view and there is broad support for it in society.”

The code pledges to take “existing laws and regulations as its guideline for action, because these reflect the dominant values and standards of a democratic society,” and to “apply the precautionary principle.” This does not constitute “a wait-and-see attitude towards the risks and problems which may occur,” the code states, “but an early and careful consideration of the possible dangers and risks and risk management attached to the development of new technology.” The code is on-line at <>.

2. Human Cloning Effort by Religious Group Reportedly to Begin

The scientific director for the Raelian religion, which believes that humans are clones of extraterrestrial scientists and that human cloning is the key to eternal life, said the group has begun work to clone a 10-month-old American girl who died earlier this year. The Sunday Times reports that the “project is being carried out in a secret laboratory” in Nevada, and the “scientists involved hope their baby will be born towards the end of next year” (Lois Rogers,”‘Aliens’ cult about to clone dead baby girl,” Sunday Times, London, 11/5/00, <>).

The Raelians have announced that an anonymous U.S. couple has given their human cloning company, Clonaid, more than $1 million to clone their dead daughter from preserved cells. The group claims to be working with four qualified scientists and 50 female volunteers who will act as egg donors and surrogates for the clone. The Clonaid web site states, “This service offers a fantastic opportunity to parents with fertility problems or homosexuals,” and promises to drop its charge for “cloning services” to “as low as $200,000.” See <>.

The Rael religion claims 55,000 members in 84 countries (<>), and has raised millions of dollars for other projects, including a plan to build an embassy near Jerusalem for the extraterrestrials.

Coverage of the Raelian cloning announcement in the Washington Post highlighted assertions by scientists including Lee Silver (Princeton University) and Michael West (Advanced Cell Technology) who believe that producing a cloned human is technically feasible. According to George Seidel, a “cloning expert” at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, “It’s a numbers game. It’s very likely that if you did it enough times you could make it work” (Rick Weiss, “Human Cloning’s ‘Numbers Game,’” 10/10/2000, <>).

Other reports focused on scientists who have strongly criticized the project. Ian Wilmut, for example, condemned it as “absolutely criminal” (Rogers, Sunday Times).

Whether or not the Raelians are in fact able to create a cloned child, their claims represent an important challenge to U.S. policy makers and to the American public. If a cloned child were to be created, opponents of human genetic manipulation should take the event as a catalyst for action. In any case, a ban on human reproductive cloning is a high priority in the effort to avert a techno-eugenic future.

3. New Comments on Human Genetic Modification by Noted Figures: James Watson, Daniel Wikler, Gregory Stock

Nobel laureate James Watson, widely known for his co-discovery of the structure of DNA, told a startled UC Berkeley audience in October that skin color is biochemically linked to sexual activity, and thinness to ambition.

According to a member of the audience, Watson “showed slides of women in bikinis and contrasted them to veiled Muslim women, to suggest that controlling exposure to sun may suppress sexual desire and vice versa.” Explaining that thin people are unhappy and therefore more ambitious, he said, “Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you’re not going to hire them.”

Watson’s remarks were reported several weeks later on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. According to the article, they were brought “into the public spotlight” by graduate students in the molecular biology department who had found Watson’s talk “profoundly disturbing.” Several UC faculty members “branded his remarks as racist, sexist and unsupported by any scientific data.” UC Berkeley biologist Michael Botchan, who presided over the session, said that Watson advanced his hypothesis with “comments that were crude and sexist and potentially racist.” Botchan said he doesn’t think Watson is racist or sexist, but merely insensitive.  (Tom Abate, “Nobel Winner’s Theories Raise Uproar in Berkeley,” 11/13/00.
Use the “search” function at <>.)

Daniel Wikler, Staff Ethicist for the World Health Organization and professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, said in October that the completion of the human genome project would make it possible to promote some genetic qualities such as intelligence and lower the incidence of others, and that the state of a nation’s gene pool should be subject to government policies. Wikler made these comments at the Third Menzies Scholar Symposium in Australia. “The question of whether there should be a state genetic not one that can be answered...with a simple ‘no’,” he said. “It may be conceivably required by justice itself.” (From <>.)

Wikler is co-author of a new book, From Chance to Choice: Genetics & Justice (Allen Buchanan, Dan W. Brock, Norman Daniels, & Daniel Wikler, Cambridge University Press, 2000). The four bioethicists believe that engineering the human germline is both inevitable and at least in some cases desirable. Unlike most other advocates, they argue for state intervention in human genetic manipulation, rather than for a “free-market” consumer eugenics.

Their book is also remarkable for the way its title appropriates the language of reproductive rights—blurring the enormous difference between ending an unwanted pregnancy and manipulating the genetic makeup of a future child. For a review of the book that accepts its premise of the inevitability of human germline engineering, see Martha C. Nussbaum, Brave Good World, The New Republic, 12/4/00 <>.

The technology to modify the genes we pass on to our children will be available within 10 to 20 years, according to Gregory Stock, a key figure in the campaign to promote human germline engineering. Stock was addressing the annual meeting of the American Society for Human Reproduction in San Diego in October, reportedly the world’s largest ever gathering of fertility experts.

His remarks included the assertion that parents will “want to weed out children who would turn out to be obese or mentally retarded” by using pre-implantation genetic screening.  “This is the beginning of the end of sex as the way we reproduce,” Stock predicted. “We will still have sex for pleasure, of course, but we will view our children as too damn important to leave it to a random meeting of sperm and eggs.” (Michael Hanlon, “Why You Won’t Need to Have Sex to Make a Baby, The Montreal Express, October 25, 2000, <>.)

4. Lawsuit in Gene Therapy Death Settled; Suspended Experiment Allowed to Resume

The family of Jesse Gelsinger, the 18-year-old who died last September in a gene therapy trial at the University of Pennsylvania, has agreed to an out-of-court settlement with the institutions and individual researchers involved in the experiment. The parties to the settlement included James Wilson, the lead investigator at Penn, and Genovo, Inc., a company that Wilson founded and that would have profited from a successful outcome.

The family released from the lawsuit two other defendants, including bioethicist Arthur Caplan, who had advised the researchers to enroll relatively healthy adults such as Gelsinger, instead of critically ill infants as they had originally planned.

The Washington Post reported that Paul Gelsinger, Jesse’s father, said “he had undergone a painful change of heart in the year after his son’s death” as he learned of “apparent wrongdoing” and eventually concluded “that he had been duped by scientists who cared more about profits than safety.” (Rick Weiss and Deborah Nelson, “Penn Settles Gene Therapy Suit,” 11/4/00, <>.)

About a week after the settlement, Dr. Jeffrey Isner of Tufts University and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Boston announced that the FDA will allow him to resume gene therapy trials it had ordered suspended last May during investigations triggered by Gelsinger’s death. “Much of the hysteria has died down,” Isner told a Reuters reporter. “The atmosphere has been a lot more positive.”

When it closed down Isner’s experiment, the FDA issued a strongly worded letter accusing him of failing to report the death of one patient and saying he showed a “serious lack of knowledge” about his duties.

Isner’s trials are sponsored by Vascular Genetics Inc. of Durham, NC, a company he helped found in 1997. Like many other gene therapy researchers, Isner thus stands to gain financially from his own work.  (Maggie Fox, “Doctor: U.S. Restores Heart Gene Therapy Trials,” 11/12/00, <>).

5. Embryo Cloning Debate Grows in Europe and UK

The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE), an advisory group to the European Commission, has issued a report saying that allowing embryo cloning for stem cell research would be “premature.” The November report, “Ethical Aspects of Human Stem Cell Research and Use,” acknowledges that embryo cloning (also known as “non-reproductive” cloning) may turn out to be the most effective way to derive stem cells for use in creating compatible tissue transplants.

“But,” it cautions, “these remote therapeutic perspectives must be balanced against considerations related to the risks of trivialising the use of embryos and exerting pressure on women as sources of oocytes” that would be needed for embryo cloning. The report points out that “there is a wide field of research to be carried out with alternative sources of human stem cells: from spare embryos, foetal tissues and adult stem cells.” The report is available at

Embryo cloning is the subject of public and parliamentary debate in the UK, where the government has announced plans to relax its regulations on using human embryo cells for research. A briefing paper on the science and politics of non-reproductive cloning by the Campaign Against Human Genetic Engineering (CAHGE) states that “Britain is taking an inter-national lead in developing [embryo cloning] technology,” a situation that prompted the European Parliament to pass a motion in September “censuring the British government for pressing ahead so quickly.”
The CAHGE briefing paper clearly discusses the technical and legal links between non-reproductive and reproductive human cloning, and proposes a moratorium on the former “until there is a global ban on cloning babies and until there has been a chance for a better informed public debate.” It also explains why a moratorium “would not harm progress towards treatments for disease.” See <>.

6. New Push for In Utero Gene Transfer

British and U.S. researchers have begun a new push for approval of gene transfer trials in human fetuses. Such “in utero” procedures would very likely affect the developing eggs or sperm of the fetus, introducing germline changes that would be passed on to all subsequent generations.
The New Scientist, a British magazine, reports that in utero gene transfer “was a hot topic among delegates to the Millennium Festival of Medicine in London last month.” It named Charles Coutelle, a researcher at the Imperial College School of Medicine in London and Janet Larson of the Ochsner Medical Foundation in New Orleans as two scientists who are experimenting with such procedures in animals. Coutelle says his team could be ready for trials in human fetuses in four or five years.

Because of the risk of germline alterations, gene therapy on human fetuses is effectively banned in Britain. In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health said in 1999 that it will not consider proposals for procedures that could modify the human germline “at this time.” This decision was in response to a proposal for in utero gene transfer by W. French Anderson, who led the campaign for approval of somatic gene therapy in the late 1980s and has long argued that germline manipulation is an appropriate medical procedure.

The New Scientist quoted several scientists who strongly oppose gene transfer in human fetuses. “My concern is that we don’t know what we’re doing,” said John Bell, head of clinical medicine at Oxford University.  “Maybe it will be acceptable in a thousand years’ time, but not today.”
Developmental biologist Stuart Newman of New York Medical College and the Council for Responsible Genetics said he suspects that some people may be downplaying concerns about in utero gene transfers in order to soften up public opinion and pave the way for germline engineering.
(Joanna Marchant, “Generation game: If gene therapy in the womb could cure common diseases, what’s the problem?,” New Scientist 12/2/00.)


1. Wild Duck Review

Just out: a new issue of Wild Duck Review, titled “End of Human Nature?” “Editor Casey Walker extends the critique of new, transformative tech-nologies beyond issues of safety, efficacy, and rights. Can we anticipate a threshold of no return for human and wild nature as we use technologies to create biotic and abiotic matter from scratch?”

Also now available: WDR’s last issue has been published by Sierra Club Books, as Made Not Born: The Troubling World of Biotechnology.
For descriptions and ordering information, see <>

2. James Watson and Matt Ridley in San Francisco February 8

James Watson will speak at San Francisco’s Herbst Theater February 8, “in conversation with” science writer Matt Ridley, author of Genome:
The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. The program is part of a series sponsored by the California Academy of Sciences. For information, 415-392-4400.


This newsletter stems from the work of academics, activists, and others in the San Francisco Bay Area who are concerned about the direction of the new human genetic technologies.

We support technologies that serve the public interest. We oppose those—including human germline engineering and human cloning—that foster inequality, discrimination, objectification, and the commodification of human genes and tissues.

This newsletter is intended to alert and inform concerned individuals about the new technologies and the techno-eugenic vision. For at least the next several months, the newsletter will be irregular (once every four to six weeks) and informal. We’d welcome feedback, and suggestions about focus and format. A web site will be coming soon.

Marcy Darnovsky will moderate. Send submissions to her via the email address below.
Unless we hear from you, we’ll keep you on this list. Please let us know if you don’t want to receive the newsletter—we won’t feel rejected! On the other hand, feel free to forward it to others who may be interested, and encourage them to subscribe by reply to Marcy.  If you’re a new subscriber, let us know if you’d like to receive back issues.

Marcy Darnovsky, Ph.D.             Richard Hayes, M.A.            

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