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Genetic Enhancement as Mutually Assured Destruction

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on March 24th, 2008

An article in the latest issue of Democracy- a fairly new progressive policy journal - frames the prospect of human genetic modification as a threat to global security. Jamie Metzel, an expert on international relations and currently Executive Vice President of the Asia Society, argues that an international treaty is called for:

But despite this looming threat, the world remains dangerously unprepared for the international genetic "arms race" that could one day emerge, in which countries or even corporations compete to generate the most competitive offspring, even as they may recognize the dangers of following this path.... As soon as one country heads down this path, others will immediately set out to keep pace. Sound improbable? The nuclear arms race resulted in the irrational production of more than 30,000 nuclear warheads, and the world came dangerously close to nuclear war more than once. The genetic arms race could well turn out the same way, and this time, we might not be so lucky.

To maximize the benefits of advances in genetic technologies while minimizing their potential harms, the world community must develop global standards and a multilateral structure capable of both promoting advances in human genetic manipulation and preventing abuses. Call it a Genetic Heritage Safeguard Treaty. The science is moving extremely fast. The policy framework must now catch up.
You can read the full piece here.

Child Abuse: UK Police Want Genes of 5-Year-Old "Future Criminals"

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on March 18th, 2008

A storm of criticism is breaking over a top British police official's proposal to seize and store DNA samples from children as young as five years old if they show signs of future criminality - that is, if they misbehave. "You could argue the younger the better," said the scheme's mastermind, Scotland Yard director of forensic services Gary Pugh.

In other words: Your kindergartener's tantrum, or a first-grade teacher who doesn't like the way your kid squirms in his seat, could be grounds for the government to collect his genes and label him a suspect. Permanently.

British newspapers carried quotes from several top-level ministers who support the idea. And Jacqui Smith, who is Home Secretary - one of the most senior and prestigious posts in the government - said it would be kept "under review."

Thankfully, human rights groups and a teachers union were quick to condemn the plan, and the Association of Chief Police Officers has distanced itself from it. But - here's the next kicker - it turns out that those British bobbies are already stashing away lots of teen and preteen DNA samples:

Last week it emerged that the number of 10 to 18-year-olds placed on the DNA database after being arrested will have reached around 1.5 million this time next year.

One and a half million kids! If there are 7 million or so 10 to 18-year-olds among the UK's 60 million people, that means that the genes of about 20% of them are already on file. Might that be a problem for the presumption of innocence? And has anyone looked at the class and racial composition of this group?

But lest you think the problem is confined to the other side of the pond, consider California's Proposition 69, passed by 62% of voters in 2004. When it goes fully into effect next January, police will be allowed to expand the state's criminal databases with DNA from anyone arrested for any felony - including trespassing and shoplifting - whether or not they are convicted.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Gene of the Week: Happiness

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on March 13th, 2008

Under the headline "Happiness all in the genes: study" was an all-too-typical article on a widely-reported recent genetic association:

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane have found our personalities and happiness are largely hereditary and that genetically-determined personality traits affect our happiness.
See also: "Happiness is in the Genes," Forbes, as well as the original report, "Happiness Is a Personal(ity) Thing: The Genetics of Personality and Well-Being in a Representative Sample," Psychological Science.

Who’s Biting Who?: Headlines on white surrogate for Asian couple

Posted by Osagie Obasogie on March 10th, 2008

Probably the oldest cliché in journalism is that the everyday 'dog bites man story' is not nearly as newsworthy as when the proverbial man turns the tables and bites the dog. But when it comes to reproductive technologies, race is increasingly becoming the dividing line between journalists' view of the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Take a recent story from the UK Daily Mail on surrogacy with the headline: "I'm a white woman but I've become a surrogate mother for an Asian couple." The Brits surely have their fair share of sensationalist news coverage, but the only thing making this otherwise unremarkable story worthy of a 2,000 word expose is that the surrogate is White while the biological parents are Asian.

Cross-racial surrogacy is not uncommon; entire businesses are profiting handsomely by catering to Western (mainly white) couples outsourcing their pregnancies to India at a fraction of the cost. What's fascinating is that unlike the Daily Mail's account, the stories covering these transactions with Indian surrogates typically focus on economics: poor women making more money in one surrogacy than they would with years of manual labor while the biological parents catch a blue light special halfway across the world. But with the White woman in the Daily Mail story, financial compensation is only briefly discussed to dismiss it as a motivating factor, framing her as an altruist par excellence: "It was never about money. When [my doctor] told me surrogates receive around £10,000 in expenses I was surprised because, quite frankly, I would have done it for nothing."

Given that most surrogacies are between couples with means and cash strapped women, the Daily Mail ironically buries its man-bites-dog angle. It's not the difference between the parties - i.e. race - that makes this story unique, but rather what they have in common: class.

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