The Challenge of Biotechnology and Public Policy

1. Introduction

While at first glance genetic choices will largely be private, prospective and preventive, their cumulative effect is not without public implications.

The next decade will be characterized by three developments: the proliferation of genetic choice, the emergence of complex systems, and, an increasing public concern and interest in the definition of what is “human”. While at first glance genetic choices will largely be private, prospective and preventive, their cumulative effect is not without public implications. Furthermore, rapid progress in the genomic life sciences (animal, plant, human) together with informatics are contributing to the emergence of highly dynamic complex systems of information gathering, storage and management, systems difficult to characterize and control. These developments have raised a certain sense of public unease with the deciphering of the genomes of all living organisms (human/plant/animal) and a perceived transgression of our humanness, if not humanity, in this new technocracy.

To understand, analyze and project on the need for a public policy framework as epigenetic as the subject matter and social trends it would seek to address, requires a preliminary understanding of how these three developments: choice, complexity, and, concepts of humanness will emerge.

Developments in both genetics and genomics have attracted a tremendous amount of media attention. Less immediately evident but equally important are the effects on future generations.

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