GENE THERAPY: Will Be ‘Fourth Medical Revolution’
"[W]e should not use human genetic engineering for any other purpose than the treatment of serious disease, no matter how tempting it might be," Dr. W. French Anderson, professor of biochemistry and pediatrics at the USC Keck School of Medicine, writes in the Jan. 1, 2000, issue of Newsweek. Anderson hails genetic engineering and therapy as "the fourth medical revolution" -- following the discovery that cholera is spread by water, surgery with anesthesia and the introduction of vaccines and antibiotics. He warns that with its immense potential for curing disease and increasing "health and human happiness" comes "real danger." He worries, "Once we have the ability to give a patient any gene we want in order to treat a disease, then we will also have the ability to give a human being genes for any purpose besides therapy." Small temptations to "improve" ourselves through gene therapy targeted at cosmetic aims, such as stopping hair loss and manipulating eye color, could lead to all-out eugenics, the use of "human genetic engineering to attempt to change ourselves and then our children." Starting down this "slippery slope" begs the question, "Where does one draw the line?" Anderson asks, "If hair growth, then hair color? If hair color, then skin color? If skin color, then other 'racial' features? Where would the re-engineering of the human body end?" The only answer, he concludes, is "to accept clear stopping points," namely drawing the line at serious disease research. Anderson wonders, "If such crucial decisions are left to the marketplace, might we ultimately engineer ourselves to the point where we are no longer human beings?" (1/00).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.