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UCLA Magazine Fall 2004
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Fall 2004
ACT II
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Is it also premature to consider the possible impact of genetics and genomics on society? Clearly the public would express a loud and resounding no! In response to public concerns, the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both established advisory committees to their secretaries of health and human services. The initial and persistent issue for each committee has been, and continues to be, genetic discrimination — an issue of great significance that we in fact have seen already starting to play out in our courts. As a measure of the consensus on this issue, the U.S. Senate in October 2003 passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2003 with a unanimous 95-0 vote. In case anyone thinks that bipartisanship was triumphant in the Capitol, be reassured that the bill was held up in the House of Representatives and at the time of this writing has little hope of passage by the 108th Congress.

The true challenge of genetics and genomics will be to understand the potential impact of the science on us as individuals and as members of social groups.

Is UCLA the right institution to address the societal implications of genetics — how this new knowledge, for example, affects the way we view ourselves in relation to other creatures on Earth; the potential for commercialization of this knowledge; whether genetic knowledge will be a tool to forecast our individual futures? Yes. As a nuclear engineer who was actively engaged in international negotiations to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons, UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale recognizes parallels with genetics and genomics, and he is quoted as saying of the Human Genome Project: “We have just come through the Manhattan Project of biology; let’s get it right this time.” The critical ingredients for such an exploration are individuals, expertise and commitment, and UCLA most definitely has all of these.

One of the chancellor’s initiatives involved the examination of the interface of genetics and society, and in November 2001 the UCLA Center for Society, the Individual and Genetics was created. Now called the UCLA Center for Society and Genetics, it is engaged with individuals from across the UCLA campus, including students and faculty from the humanities, the sciences and the professional schools, to investigate the coevolution, or mutually dependent interactions, of society and genetics.

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