An American sociologist has been addressing Swiss universities about the perplexing ethical questions raised by biotechnology.This content was published on May 25, 2001 - 17:32
Professor Thomas Hoban, from North Carolina State University, said governments in Europe and the United States had failed to get to grips with the immense implications of genetic science.
Hoban, who has researched how the new technologies will affect society, said the issue which caused him most concern was scientists' ability to modify human evolution.
"They are going to have the power to look at genes and specify that if an embryo has more of one gene or another, that child may end up being smarter or able to run faster.
"We don't know what they are going to be able to do in the near future and what concerns me is that there is no social mechanism right now to help guide that process. Parents are going to have to make their own decisions. They are going to be able to choose if they want to modify their unborn children."
Parents with a birth-defect child can already make the decision to terminate the pregnancy. Hoban said that within 15 to 20 years, scientific advances would allow children to be born who have had significant pre-natal modification.
"No government wants to go in and tell couples what they can or cannot do with their reproductive decisions so it is a tough issue," said Hoban.
"I think it could change the whole fabric of our society and we, as humans, are going to take it upon ourselves to change our own evolution."
In his speeches, Hoban warned of other issues raised by human genomics, for example the ability to discriminate against people based on their genetic profile.
He said that although cloning could have disastrous consequences for society, it concerned him less because he thought it was technically impossible.
"Anybody who tries cloning is going to cause a lot of hardship and pain to those unborn children," said Hoban, stressing that the technology was poorly understood and fraught with dangers for both mother and child.
by Vincent Landon
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