There is an increasing tendency to blame human ills – physical and psychological – on ‘defective’ genes. But is it our genes that are defective? Or is it rather the pathological environment in which we live?
Deprived of community, eating nutritionally impoverished foods, surrounded by industrial pollution . . . the raw conditions of life for billions of people make a healthy and happy existence impossible. How convenient for industry to blame all this on our defective genes – and then to sell us ‘solutions’ in the form of biotechnology.
An article for the The Doomsday Funbook (Jon Carpenter Books, February 2006), written in 2001 and previously unpublished.
See ordering information for the Funbook.
To someone who only has a hammer, the world is one big nail. To the biotech industry (that will soon have patented almost every modified gene with even a remotely conceivable therapeutic application) the world is one big defective gene. Not surprisingly the near completion in June 2000 of a draft map of the human genome was not only hailed by the industry as a unique scientific, but even a unique religious breakthrough.
For President Clinton, a fundamentalist proponent of genetic engineering, it was “more than just a triumph of science and reason”. “The code that we are learning”, he piously declared, “is the language in which God created life”. The map is even referred to by some as “the book of life”, the genes themselves, as Genewatch notes, “acquiring a godlike status in determining our future”.
In the meantime, scientists are claiming to ‘discover’ the genes responsible for ever more and ever less likely afflictions. Thus Professor Robert Plomin, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, has discovered the gene for intelligence. Scientists of the Human Genome Project announced in July 1993 that they have identified the gene for homosexuality. Professor Grimley Evans of Oxford University tells us that he has found the gene for longevity, while Dr. Robert Freedman of the University of Colorado has discovered the gene for baldness.
Also discovered by our eminent scientists is the gene for alcoholism, the gene for adultery, the gene for shyness, and, you would not believe it, the gene for not being able to get out of bed in the morning. All this is great fun – but it is less so when serious diseases are interpreted in this infantile manner.
Thus, some doctors are now telling us that breast and ovarian cancers are of genetic origin – caused by a defect in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Young women who are endowed with these genes are actually being advised by cynical doctors to have their perfectly healthy breasts removed on the grounds that they would otherwise develop breast cancer.
However, a defect in these two genes can only possibly be linked with a rare form of cancer that accounts for no more than between 5 and 10 percent of breast and ovarian cancers. Nor does the fact of carrying such genes mean that a woman will actually get these diseases. Other factors will necessarily be involved, including environmental factors for instance.
As it happens, only a very small proportion of diseases can be attributed to single gene disorders – for instance, Huntington’s disease and B-thalassaemia. What is more, gene therapy, in spite of all the hype, has achieved very little if anything. Human trials have been going on since 1990 and there have been over four hundred research studies worldwide with only one clear ‘life-saving’ success, in France. In addition, gene therapy has actually killed a number of patients – something that has been given very little notice in the world press.
However, gene testing, i.e. the mapping of peoples’ genes so as to identify the defective ones, is now big business. Still more so is the production of the growing array of ‘preventative medicines’ that will help prevent someone carrying a supposedly defective gene from developing the disease that is, usually unjustifiably, associated with it.
But worse still, the pretensions of the biotech industry are shifting political attention “further and further from tackling the serious problems, such as poverty and environmental pollution”, which as Genewatch notes are “more important in illness prevention.” This is particularly the case with cancer, which is partly caused by smoking even more so by exposure to the ever-increasing number of carcinogenic chemicals we are exposed to in the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.
This has been documented in great detail by Professor Samuel Epstein of the University of Illinois, though it is hotly denied by the cancer establishment – closely allied as it is with the chemical industry.
This is also true of psychological disorders. Thus, an international team of scientists announced on 2 November 1994, that it had found the gene for manic depression, while in December 1996 we were informed that the genetic mutation that makes people more susceptible to anxiety and depression has also been discovered.
Perhaps, even more irresponsible, is the identification by scientists at Trinity College Dublin in August 1997 of the gene responsible for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, a term coined ten years earlier by the American Psychiatric Association. Symptoms include “inattention, inability to make mental efforts, hyperactivity, fidgeting, talking excessively, and obstinate behaviour”.
Interestingly enough, these are also the recognized symptoms of what has usually been referred to as ‘emotional instability’ – which is prevalent among slum children who have been seriously deprived of the requisite discipline and love that only a sound family upbringing can provide. Such children are almost impossible to educate – hence the chaos in many inner city schools.
Of course, if this aberrant psychological state is made out to be of genetic origin, then it no longer matters in what atrocious social, economic, and environmental conditions our children are brought up in, so long as enough money is available to pay for the requisite ‘gene testing’ and gene therapy.
Unfortunately it is much the same with just about all the major problems that afflict us today. They are almost always wrongs attributed to a problem to which some powerful industrial group can supposedly provide the solution. This means that the real causes are never addressed – a process that is hardly ‘sustainable’.
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