Press Releases

    14 January 2004

    Advances in Genetics Have Brought Tremendous Benefits, but also Raise Ethical Questions, Secretary-General Says, Introducing Lecture on ”Designer Genes”

    NEW YORK, 13 January (UN Headquarters) -- Following are introductory remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the lecture on “Designer Genes:  The Ethics of Modern Genetics” by Professor Eric Wieschaus in New York, on 12 January:

    I am greatly honoured that Professor Eric Wieschaus has accepted my invitation to give this lecture.

    He is a Nobel Laureate and a world-renowned pioneer in the field of genetics.

    Advances in the field of genetics have brought tremendous benefits to humanity, especially in curing serious illnesses and saving lives.  But this progress has also raised important ethical questions.

    The title of Professor Wieschaus’ lecture -- which I suggested -- plays a bit with words, 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 our characteristics.

    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?

    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?

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

    You probably know, Professor Wieschaus, that the Member States of the United Nations are divided on the issue of cloning.  What advice would you give them, with your scientific knowledge and your particular moral view on life, humanity and the world?

    I must admit that I did not warn you of these questions in advance -- but I expect you have anticipated them.  In any case, we shall listen with rapt attention to the lecture you have prepared for us.  And if by chance it does not fully answer all my questions -- well, I reserve the right to ask them again, in the question-and-answer period!

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