Human genetic engineering has the potential to divide humanity into “super-humans” and slaves, and this “gene-ism” could “eclipse racism as the most destructive force on the planet”, according to Boston University’s Professor of Health Law, George Annas.
Addressing a panel discussion at the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), Annas said that the creation of a genetically modified “post-human” race could lead to genocide of those considered sub-human, or with inferior genes.
Although the genome project had found that human genes are 99,9% the same, scientists would concentrate on the 0,1% difference, Anna told the panel convened by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
“This difference could provide the scientific basis for discrimination,” said Annas, pointing out that a person’s genetic mapping could lead to them being denied health insurance or employment if they were found to be predisposed towards certain illnesses.
Annas appealed to the WCAR to consider a treaty to ban “all species-altering techniques”, and stressed that it was essential that all people had the right to “genetic privacy”.
Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer asked whether genetic engineering was “the new face of racism”. She said the “haves”, who could afford access to genetic engineering, could potentially live longer and lead healthier lives, whereas the “have nots” – “principally dark-skinned people” – would not be able to afford such access.
Unesco’s Jerome Binde (SUBS: ACCENT ON THE E) said his organisation had identified three potential risks of the human genome project:
that if the gene sequences of particular groups were identified, these could be used as the basis for racial discrimination; that human embryos would be selected which favoured particular phenotypes; that human liberty could be denied if those genes which predisposed people to certain emotions such as depression or anger were identified and modified.
Binde said the WCAR needed to address genetic engineering to prevent the creation of “a two-track humanity” of super-humans and “sub-humans” who were either excluded or genetically manipulated so that they could be controlled by the “super-humans”.