Remarks by Jaydee Hanson

Remarks by Jaydee Hanson
Policy and Strategy


Framing the next issues and avoiding old problems


Cure or Alchemy?

One of the problems with almost all of the human biotechnologies is a persistent appeal to the therapeutic misconception that the research will quickly lead to therapies for human patients.

The arguments used by the proponents of gene transfer experiments (aka gene therapy), stem cell research, cloning, and now synthetic biology reads more like a religious prophecy than a scientific discussion of what is really likely to happen. The lame will walk, the blind will see, all diseases (especially the really difficult ones like Alzhemiers, Parkinsons, ALS) will be cured, we will live forever. Genetic engineering will allow us to avoid have diseases passed on to our children. Cows will be transformed to produce in their milk antibodies to diarrhea. Every technology's proponent claims it will cure disease, some will even end hunger.

Too often, parts of the so-called "progressive community" has parroted these claims rather than say "wait a minute".

When parts of the community have raised questions about the technologies, sometimes other parts of the progressive community don't want to even talk with them or see them as opposing all aspects of the technology.

Form over Substance

SCNT enthusiasts portrayed it as an essential and inevitable component of cellular therapy. The research took on a "life" greater than the demonstrated animal studies and before anyone had even demonstrated that primate embryos could be cloned.

Follow the Money

One Missouri couple poured over $30 million into a ballot initiative on embryonic stem cell research in a state with slightly more than 2 million voters.

California voters approved a $3 Billion fund for stem cell research in 2004 after funds from a relatively small number of persons funded a ballot initiative.

The efforts to ban patents on life and nucleic sequences have repeatedly run up against interests whose major way of making money was to control the patents on the material and machinery of life.

We ignore research in non human organisms at our peril.

Most of the new developments that we will be fighting in the future will happen first in animals, even in cells like Venter lab's synthetic genome.

iPS cells were not taken quite seriously when a little known Japanese researcher announced that he had succeeded in developing them from mice, then both his lab and Paul Thompson's lab demonstrated that these genetically engineered cells could produce human stem cell lines.

We ignore research in Asia at our peril, too. Much cutting edge research is being done in Asia.

World's 1st semi-cloned fish

SINGAPORE scientists have developed a way to create sperm-like stem cells from fish, which they used to fertilise a fish egg to produce a healthy offspring.The offspring, which they have named Holly, is the world's first semi-cloned animal. The researchers claim this technique could potentially be used to treat infertility in humans, spelling hope for couples who have trouble conceiving. BUT this would mean the first genetically engineered gametes for humans..

World's first clone from iPS cells was a Chinese mouse

Nature reported on July 23, 2009 that mice have been cloned from adult mouse skin cells that have been reprogrammed to turn them into a versatile embryo-like state, marking an important advance in stem-cell research.

And of course the researchers noted that if the technique were to be repeated in humans, it could offer the prospect of a limitless supply of an individual's own stem cells and be used to treat conditions such as Parkinson's disease, paralysis and diabetes.Even the Chinese appreciate the value of hype.

The first mouse pup born in the study, conducted by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has been named Tiny, or "Xiao Xiao" in Mandarin.

Academic Exercise or Activists?

Perhaps the biggest challenge of the progressive community is to resist turning the critique of these technologies into just another academic exercise. A paper that will be read by only a few specialists may or may not change policy. If we all write papers on a hundred "progressive" issues, we will be well published and perhaps well regarded in our organizations, think tanks, and academies, but we may not change the policy. We definitely won't if 100 of us are working separately on 200 issues.

As hard as it might seem, we should learn from the right wing. Even their academic conferences are focused on the same few policy goals as their activists. Their philosophy is one we should consider: Choose a few goals and everyone work on them until they are accomplished and then add others. The activists and the academics support the same goals.

Broaden Our Activist Base

We have a great group here, and have done a much better job than most progressive conferences at actively collaborating with people with disabilities, people of color, environmentalists, and religionists but we are still missing many key players.

This week is the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We should celebrate the participation of several key disability rights activists.

We have several notable environmental leaders participating with us, but I hope that next year we will have still more.

The issues of human biotechnologies have always had special impact on people of color. We have many of the strong people of color leaders with us, but we cannot be content and need to have still more with us next year.

Progressive religious leaders are mostly absent. We need to congratulate ourselves for at least having a session on religion and several of us here have served on various ecumenical and interfaith committees. But the progressive branch of religion needs to be one of our allies Again, the right wing has figured out how to frame these issues in a way that grabs right wing religionists. We need to do a better job of framing the issues for the left wing religionists. A greater focus on the overlap between our issues and other issues of social-economic-racial justice would help.

Moreover, we must frame our issues such that these groups will seek us out to help them accomplish their goals in these areas. When we have framed the issues such that all of the progressive groups can take and work with them and then later call us to give additional help, we will have done our job and really framed the issues well.

Identify the key issues of the next ten years now and frame the debate, develop the regulations, get them implemented

My list is actually rather short, but my main point is that we need a collective list no longer than these five areas: If we can get it down to three issue areas that we all work on, we can win major victories. Proponents will try to argue that all of these developments need no new regulations.

Synthetic Biology

Nanotechnology causing or being used to make genetic changes

Organ transplants/gene transfer technology/ growing organs

IVF research and the new eugenics

New machines in our bodies—Dick Cheney's pulseless heart?