- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2000

Landing on the Moon and the discovery of antibiotics the deeds which have been compared to this week's revelation of the first draft of the humane genome are great indeed. The deciphering of "the book of life," the three billion chemical letters which scientists now have to learn to read, is definitely way up the list of human achievements.

Dr. Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project of the National Institutes of Health foresees that by 2010 genetic tests will help identify the people at highest risk of getting lung cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer. Tests would even guide treatment of breast and ovarian cancer. By 2020 individual genetic variations will be used by doctors when prescribing medicine.

It is also progress that DNA evidence can help convict a murderer and identify other criminals. This will have wide implications for the justice system when the method is widespread.

Still, with all this good news, ethical problems abound. Some time ago medical science outpaced the capacity of laws to deal with the ensuing complications. Disaster scenarios are easy to imagine.

Picture every human being equipped more or less literally with a bar code telling the whole naked truth about that particular individual's biology. Who should have access to it? Doctors? Insurance companies? Social service institutions? The IRS? The person's employer?

A new understanding of ourselves and mankind in general will inevitably arise from this new information. Religious beliefs and spirituality will be fiercely challenged if gene-wise scientists are able to establish how human beings evolved. Our relationship with nature and other people will be influenced as well. Consider what will happen when each of us can be reproduced exactly. Babies will be specially manufactured to fit the parents' conception of their dream child. The right color eyes, level of athletic achievement and intelligence can be altered in the womb. Gene banks already exist holding the genes of the world's best athletes, scientists, actors and models. It's only a matter of using the material. Not too long ago, people were up in arms about a proposed Internet auction of supermodels' eggs.

In the absence of proper regulation, exploitation and a new DNA-racism could be the consequences. Currently no such laws exist. However, with the acceleration of the publicly-funded Genome Project and private company Celera Genomics gene project, it is time for lawmakers to speed up their work as well. When it comes to the essence of the human being, the free market will have to be guided by a legal, ethical framework.

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