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January 18, 2003

WHO looks kindly on genomics

The WHO is actually recommending (link requires registration) that developing countries invest in genetic services as part of more holistic and complete health care system.

I'm surprised that the WHO has not thought through some of the obvious unintended consequences of this recommendation. Several cultures in developing countries have a rather, well, different view of what is considered a genetic defect and what is not. In addition, the rapid pace of change in genomics research can quickly overwhelm and twist traditional practices.

An egregious example would be its effects on premarital screening. Arranged marriages are very common from Iran to China (and with a big pit-stop in India). The rationale behind "arranging" a marriage is to allow for maximum cultural and tribal compatibility between two complete strangers. Today, the search for compatibility in arranged Indian marriages has led most communities away from old-fashioned astrology and to the medical history of the family. Now throw the family genetic history in the mix, and it becomes easy to envisage the rise of widespread, populist eugenic practices in these cultures.

I happen to think that both our ability and the desire to alter our genetic landscape heralds one of the most exciting events of this century. It's going to be fun to watch, and even more fun to be a part of. I can't wait!

Razib adds: Great Suman, now I've got to worry about my mom stealing some cells to get tested so she can have the results on hand when she's looking for a wife for me. Grrrr....

Posted by suman at 07:03 PM

Besides the genetic consequences you allude to, isn't this a rather stupid waste of resources in nations that can't treat ordinary diseases among their citizens effectively?

Posted by: Robin Roberts at January 20, 2003 09:44 AM