Advances in genetics have benefited humanity but also pose ethical questions - Annan

12 January 2004

While advances in the field of genetics have brought tremendous benefits to humanity, especially in curing serious illnesses and saving lives, this progress has also raised important ethical questions, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.

His comments came in introductory remarks to a lecture at UN Headquarters in New York on "Designer Genes: The Ethics of Modern Genetics" by Professor Eric Wieschaus of Princeton University, who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.

The Secretary-General said he had proposed the title of the speech "to suggest a future in which, thanks to the discoveries that he and his colleagues have made, it might become possible to select human genes à-la-carte, so to speak, and thus pre-determine human characteristics."

Mr. Annan also raised a series of disturbing questions which require attention. "Is this possible? Are we moving closer to a world dominated by eugenics, like that imagined by Aldous Huxley in his famous novel, Brave New World? And if so, would not the dangers outweigh the benefits? Where should we draw the line between what is feasible and what is desirable or ethical?" he asked.

"The greatest fear is that we may be trying to 'play God,' with unforeseeable consequences, in the end precipitating our own destruction," he cautioned.

The lecture is the latest in a series sponsored by the Secretary-General with the aim of creating a strengthened international framework for dialogue and mutual understanding.

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Video of the lecture

 

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