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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.