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Report from the Genetic Engineering Group
by The Genetic Engineering Group in Boston
After a discussion on the Walzer XYY study,1 we felt that the benefits of stopping the research would indeed outweigh any harm which might be done to the few children now under study. In fact, we have much greater fear of the harm Dr. Walzer has already done by the information given to the parents. A basis for self-fulfilling prophecy is well established.2 In addition, the study itself might be used to stigmatize people and add to the trend of blaming people for their own misfortunes.
We decided to approach the Commission of Inquiry at Harvard Medical School to lodge a formal complaint against the Walzer research. Dr. Clifford Barger, Chairperson of this committee, admitted that both Committees on Human Studies which had originally reviewed the ethical aspects of Walzer’s study, had had reservations although they had approved it. He has referred our complaint to the Human Studies Committee at Harvard Medcical School which will hold public hearings in September to reconsider the ethical aspects. We are preparing for these hearings by seeking expert witnesses to testify for our cause with the aim of forcing the hospital to discontinue its sanction of the XYY research.
This is a good starting point for ongoing national action because a similar study is being conducted in Denver. We expect to turn local and national press onto these issues so that a wide range of the public will become informed.
The group is still in the process of defining its goals, but our overall position may be summarized:
(1) Scientific progress does not equal human progress and technology is not a goal in itself.
(2) Scientists cannot be trusted to regulate their own activities; they should account for the consequences of their work even as politicians are supposed to.
(3) Through action within the scientific and general community we hope to raise a general consciousness for the vital issues of biological and genetic knowledge and technology.
We plan to attend seminars in the area which have controversial social implications and to challenge the speakers who show lack of social awareness and responsibility.
Other scientific projects which have harmful effects involving similar studies on human experimentation will be challenged. One product of our efforts already, in addition to workshops for teachers, has been an article by members of the group published in Psychology Today.3
- See Elseviers’ article, “The Criminal XYY Chromosomes: fact or fiction,” in this issue.
- R. Rosenthal. “The Pygmalion effect.” Psychology Today 7:56 (1973).
- F. Ausubel, J. Beckwith and K. Janssen. “The Politics of Genetic Engineering: Who Decides Who’s Defective.” Psychology Today, June, 1974, p. 30.