not so many luddites after all

over the weekend, one of my younger first cousins once removed declared that he absolutely, definitely will be a fireman when he grows up (he’s three). his father, one of my in-laws, (half-)jokingly said that, no, you’ll be a lawyer or a doctor or a professor. i chimed in with: “get into genetics, kid. that’s where all the money will be.” (heh! as if i would know.)

my cousin-in-law responded: “genetics? but that’s unethical.” this from a man with a marketing degree. (~_^)

i have to admit i was pretty flummoxed and didn’t really know how to respond or even where to start. our follow up discussion was brief so i didn’t get a satisfactory explanation as to what’s “unethical” about “genetics,” but i got to wondering what the rest of america thinks. thankfully, they’re not so skeptical:

Survey finds wide public support for nationwide study of genes, environment and lifestyle
Nov 12, 2008

Four in five Americans support the idea of a nationwide study to investigate the interactions of genes, environment and lifestyle, and three in five say they would be willing to take part in such a study, according to a survey released today. The research was conducted by the Genetics & Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University with funding from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)….

“Our survey found that widespread support exists in the general public for a large, genetic cohort study. What’s more, we found little variation in that support among different demographic groups,” said David Kaufman, Ph.D., lead author of the paper and project director at the Genetics & Public Policy Center, which is located in Washington….

The online survey of 4,659 U.S. adults was conducted between December 2007 and January 2008. When asked about their support for and willingness to participate in a large genetic cohort study, 84 percent of respondents supported the study and 60 percent indicated they would definitely or probably participate in such a study if asked.

Survey respondents were carefully selected to reflect the demographic makeup of the United States. No significant differences in support or willingness to participate were observed between whites, Hispanics, African Americans and Asians. American Indian and Alaska Native respondents expressed less support for the study (65 percent), but were just as likely to be willing to participate (63 percent) as other respondents….

the pew folks also conducted a “town hall meeting” about genetics in 2008 — a set of five focus group sessions held around the country. from the report [pg. 11]:

“Participants were asked to consider what types of research should and should not be done with the information collected by the proposed study. Research aimed at curing disease was commonly cited as acceptable, and some participants named conditions such as cancer, birth defects, and diabetes….

“Human cloning was cited in every town hall as an unacceptable use of the proposed biobank, although in one case participants differentiated between reproductive cloning (unacceptable) and cloning aimed at regenerating organs or otherwise curing disease (acceptable). Participants frequently named research aimed at altering humans or creating ‘designer babies’ as unacceptable. Another area of concern was ‘things that point out differences between gender, or race, or anything like that that people use to discriminate.’ Other areas mentioned included weapons development, intelligence, alcoholism, and sexual orientation….”

so a lot of americans don’t like the idea of cloning. personally, i’m looking forward to being able to clone myself. i mean, how great a world would it be with more MEs in it? (~_^) and why should bacteria and some lizards have all the fun anyways?

and a lot of americans don’t like “designer babies” either. the funny thing is, of course, that they don’t realize that that’s what they’re aiming for when they look for that perfect someone to marry, i.e. kids to match their heart’s desire. in fact, a lot of americans don’t like anything that smacks of eugenics. i guess that’s not too surprising at this point in time.

at least the majority haven’t written off the whole discipline of genetics as “unethical” though.

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