Monday, March 12, 2007

Duster: some core issues -- session 3

From: Troy Duster
Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2007 11:37:30 -0500

It is daunting to try to come up with an account of core issues in a few paragraphs, but fools do rush in, so here goes:

1) The relationship between bioscience and society is contingent on the particular society in which the bioscience is translated into practice and policy. Here are two easy examples. Genetic screening and testing of a population in a society with universal health care is much less of a contentious issue than gene screening and testing in a society in which insurance companies can root out and exclude those with asymptomatic “genetic” conditions – from late onset disorders such as Huntington’s to likely risks of those with BRCA genes. Or second, imagine the different rate of acceptance by Ashkenazic Jews for Tay-Sachs screening done by Michael Kaback in the last two decades of the 20th century (a near complete success story) versus a similar hypothetical program in the Third Reich.

2) Two kinds of national DNA databases are in our future. The Portuguese government has already approved “everybody in the DNA bank” legislation in early 2005. The British now have over 4 million samples from their population in a databank, with an explicit goal of getting a quarter of the population in by 2010. One such database is designed for forensic purposes. As in my brief note above, acceptance, compliance, or strong resistance will depend upon the kind of society. The British were primed and ready for expanding DNA databanks from 30 years of acceptance of what in the US would be resisted (ACLU) as draconian counter-terrorist activities spinning out of the northern Ireland conflict (cameras, cameras, cameras everywhere… DNA dragnets were pioneered in the UK, etc.). But a health-inspired national DNA databank is also a likely development in some societies… again, note the conditions from the first entry above.

3) In both China and India, there is the beginning realization that sex selection practices now assisted by technological breakthroughs (from expensive amniocentesis, all the way to cheap ultrasound) are dramatically distorting male and female relations, potential mating opportunities, and will have profound effect upon social and economic policies that few could have been imagined. The book, Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population, is a harbinger as ominous as global warming scenarios (e.g., for Polar Bear extinction) about the myriad of possible spinoffs from sex selection. The Chinese government is now trying to initiate some “correctives” and incentives, but 30 years of female infanticide via selective abortion is not so easily “corrected” – thus, for contemporary China – and for the next decades, lots of “bare branches.”

Troy Duster

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1 comment:

Natasha Vita-More said...

Insightful article. My thoughts are that people must become aware of the pros and cons of DNA transparency within the jurisdiction of their respective communities. There are trade-offs in life and we need to critically assess what the trade-offs are for each one of us knowing the condition - map of our physiology as well as our cognitive properties - of our DNA. Not knowing the condition of our bodies is like driving down a highway at 90 miles an hour blindfolded! In the future, we very well may look back at these times wondering why humanity worried about the transparency of their DNA as their lives passes them by. I would rather know what disease I have a propensity for and deal with it than hide my DNA so no one could charge me and extra $60 dollars a year for the exposed cancer gene. If we know that 50% of humanity will get Alzheimer’s by the time we are 65, then I would venture to say everyone would be willing to donate a percentage of their income toward curing that particular disease.