Human genetic and
reproductive technologies pose immense challenges for the human future. If used
responsibly they offer new ways to treat disease and otherwise improve the
human condition. If misused, they could exacerbate existing disparities, create
new forms of discrimination and inequality, and open the door to high-tech
eugenic practices. In short, biotech tools and practices have the power to
promote or undermine individual well-being and public health, to create private
fortunes or advance the public interest, and to foster or threaten a just and
New human biotechnologies are
being developed very rapidly. Neither the general public nor policy makers are
fully aware of the nature and magnitude of the challenges they present.
Regulatory oversight is inadequate at both national and international levels. Few civil society organizations have
identified the issues these technologies raise as priority concerns.
The result is an accelerating
stream of technological, social and commercial "facts on the ground" –
new products and industries, cultural icons and images, and concentrations of
wealth and influence – that undermines the prospect of democratic governance of
Contrary to many accounts,
however, the genie is not out of the
bottle. The most dangerously consequential biotechnologies have yet to be fully
developed and marketed. Influential individuals and institutions are beginning
to focus on the risks at hand. Responsible scientists acknowledge the need for
strong societal oversight. Many countries have adopted comprehensive policies
that can serve as models for others.
There is no reason that
people of different nations, cultures, religions and philosophies cannot work
together in support of policies needed to protect our common human future.
Appropriate social oversight and regulation need not impede potentially
beneficial medical research and applications. The next decade is a window of
opportunity during which we can forge understandings and reach agreements on
national and international policies that will allow us to reap the benefits and
avoid the risks of these powerful biotechnologies.