Limits of Genetic Manipulation

Nearly 50 years after the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA, profound ethical and political questions remain about the governance of genetic engineering and enhancement, as technologies capable of altering the meaning and integrity of human life. The Observatory aims to cultivate conversations that widen the range of questions asked of such technologies. The event looks back to look forward. It focuses on the need to think seriously and in new ways about the notion of limits: what moral and experiential repertoires have people drawn upon as they debate limits on technological research and its applications; what major differences can one identify in thinking about these limits; and how, if at all, can productive conversations be constructed across sociocultural and disciplinary divides? Most particularly, we ask what lessons can be learned from some early critics of genetic engineering and their notions of limits on the development and deployment of this technology?

This event featured a panel conversation with comments from Dr. Stuart Newman, Dr. Diane Paul, and and Dr. Jeantine Lunshof. 

Participant Biographies

Dr. Stuart Newman is a professor of cell biology and anatomy at New York Medical College. His previous work has been situated in the biological life sciences and he was an early and influential critic of the uses of genetic engineering to modify the human germ line. In 1997, he applied for a US patent of a human-nonhuman chimera, which, although ultimately denied, raised significant constitutional and ethical questions about the nature of biotechnology and its implications for human flourishing.

Dr. Diane Paul is Professor Emerita in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Paul's work in the history of science has explored the history of genetic technologies and their implications for societies around the globe, especially related to movements for eugenics. 

Dr. Jeantine E. Lunshof is an ethicist at the Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically inspired Engineering, and Lecturer at Harvard Medical School, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine on behalf of the Harvard Center for Bioethics. Her work and recent publications focus on the normative and ethical questions emerging at the early stages of scientific research, including synthetic biology and other disruptive technologies.