Sunday, March 11, 2007


From: Suzanne Anker
Date: Sun, 11 Mar 2007 07:32:55 -0500

In 2003, the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA, James Watsonaccepting an award at the New York Academy of Sciences talked a bit about the residual after-effects of his seminal scientific findings. He explained that after the paper he co-authored with Francis Crick in Nature (April 2, 1953) not much of anything happened. Although DNA’s structure had been exposed, its application to the fields of the biological sciences was still uncharted territory. Fast forward fifty years plus, and alternative dilemmas are upon us. What shall we and what shall we not do with regard to the alteration and manipulation of life forms?

In this session, our discussion will focus on the social consequences of the genetic revolution. This technology, like others before it, is Janus-faced and relies heavily on risk assessment data, interpretive models and underlying principles in bioethics. Furthermore, the plasticity of the DNA molecule itself, makes it possible to slice and dice, recombine, insert, or knock-out gene sequences at will. One can conceive of the biological and technological sciences as forming a free-floating, yet diaphanous backdrop, intervening into the activities of human life . From the food and the medicines we ingest to the tests that screen our interior bodies to its use in criminal investigations and social hierarchies, DNA technologies continues to alter the ways in whichwe inhabit the world.

Artists and writers, and especially sociologists, philosophers and ethicists continue toplay catch up from a humanist point of view in assessing the uses and abuses of these fast-paced technologies. How shall we manage the social consequences of scientific facts?

Each discipline has its own set of practices with regard to this question. From your particular perspective, please identify the issues, values, and ethics involved in these transformative bio-practices.

Picture caption: Map of legalization of compulsory sterilization laws in the US during the1920’s and 1930’s

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