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Published on May 7, 2012
George Annas, Professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, discusses his concerns about the new human genetic technologies at the 2010 Tarrytown Meeting.
The Tarrytown Meetings bring together people working to ensure that human biotechnologies and related emerging technologies support rather than undermine social justice, equality, human rights, ecological integrity and the common good.
Presentation Abstract: The mythical cover story of biotechnology is progress, liberty, saving lives and extending life. The reality is expanding the gap between the rich and the poor, exploitation of women, the growth of unaccountable corporate power, the growth of the anti-terrorist state, and the de-professionalization of lawyers and physicians. Producing an effective countervailing, public force has so far proven illusive. Unless this deficit is remedied, and soon, biotechnology will take on a life of its own and move beyond our control. This is because biotechnology is viewed as scientific progress, has ample private customers, and has plenty of venture capitalists who are betting on a profitable biotech future. Construction of a countervailing force may nonetheless be possible because of other strong societal goals, including protecting health, safety, and welfare; protecting children specifically and the human species in general from catastrophic harm; protecting and preserving the environment; liberty, privacy, and equality.
Multiple frameworks have been proposed to try to regulate or govern the global development and application of biotechnologies. The social justice framework emphasizes equity and just distribution of resources, including healthcare and new biotechnologies. The human rights framework is founded on the proposition that all humans are equal in dignity and rights (so no differences, including genetic differences, among or between humans can justify discrimination), that governments are obligated to respect, protect and fulfill human rights, and to take special care for the welfare of women and children. All of these rights and obligations are expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948) and the two Covenants (1966). It is suggested that the health and human rights approach, with the "right to health" at its center, may command the most universal support; it is also supports both the broader social justice and human rights approaches, and imposes enforceable obligations on governments and private citizens, and, to a lesser extent, on transnational corporations.