Shree Mulay: Reflections on Genetic & Reproductive Technologies - Tarrytown 2010





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Published on May 7, 2012

Shree Mulay, Professor Shree Mulay, Associate Dean and Professor of Community Health and Humanities at the Memorial University of Newfoundland at St. Johns, reflects upon themes raised 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.

Find out more about the Tarrytown Meetings here:

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Presentation Abstract:
When Richard Hayes and Marcy Darnovsky asked me to be a reflector a couple of months ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. However, I want to thank them for including me in this wonderful meeting and by asking me to reflect on the day's proceedings, pushing me into being more attentive to what is being said. I offer my reflections rather diffidently because the reflections this morning were rich and superb, both in content and in form.

For one thing, my education began at the breakfast table where I learnt what a Transhumanist was and what singularity meant, both terms I had not heard before. Despite the fact that I have been a devoted trekkie for the longest time, I had missed out on these nuances of science fiction or not encountered believers in these aspects of, dare I say human development. I am not sure how this newly-acquired knowledge informs my reflections but it meant that the day had begun in earnest.

The morning session, meant to be a prelude to the breakout session offered us a rich array of facts, opinions and observations. For example, Rebecca Dresser in describing her experience on the President's Council on Bioethics provided us with an extensive list of do's and don'ts in developing policies. The bottom line suggested by her was to undertake due diligence of issues, avoid ridiculing those with different viewpoints because there is much to be learnt from engaging with them to build an alliance.

We heard the other panellists describe areas that were poorly regulated and needed our attention such as innovations in reproduction and reproductive technologies because FDA regulates products and not processes. Likewise off-label use of products and their effectiveness is not monitored and therefore, there is no evidence that accumulates. Jaydee Hanson suggested that we broaden our gaze to consider implications of a wide variety of technologies but ultimately focus on a few things well rather than take on 200 issues.

I heard the words power and politics uttered for the first time in the session in the last panel presentation by Karen Maschke, who urged us to critically challenge the notion of regulation, to consider the different jurisdictions and instead of focusing at the federal level, to focus on all levels. Her contention - that oversight agencies do not function well and we need to understand the power dynamics of who supports, who funds and what policies are needed - requires ground work.

Rosario Isasi urged us to look at the past in order to develop policies such as reasons why we failed to enact an international document on human cloning. While we need to apply a human rights framework, we also need to realize that self regulation is not efficient and we need to be clear on what should be permitted what should be regulated and what should be prohibited. While we have to consider the full range of genetic and reproductive technologies and we have to pick our battles we need to see who has the moral authority and leadership in regulating medical and reproductive tourism and he global enterprise.

The panel provided us with an excellent framework to move on to the breakout sessions. I will not attempt to summarize what transpired in the breakout sessions because while many issues were identified as priorities, education and movement building from ground-up was certainly seen as being important by all the groups. It would be remiss of me if I did not mention the concerns brought forward by two people: first on the right of children born as a result of IVF from donor gametes to know their genetic heritage; and second the focus on the woman as the primary location of ART and exploitation of women as surrogates by Hedva who has asked us to join the campaign against trafficking of gametes.

I am left with the impression that while most of us share common values, which is necessary in order to work together, we need to have a longer conversation about what the focus should be. I would like to push for a working group on global instruments to regulate ART, surrogacy and trade in gametes. If I have misrepresented what people said I would appreciate their setting the record straight.

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