Editor's Letter On Latest Issue On Genetics
THIS MONTH'S THEME
FROM THIS MONTH'S EDITOR
The weekend before this issue went to the printers I was standing on a Welsh hillside scattering the ashes of my best friend into the winds of a rainy midsummer day. Amanda died of leukaemia in February. She would have been forty next month.
Her death has coloured the whole period of the research and production of this magazine. And by some strange irony, one of the first things I came across was the US Government's patenting of the genes of the Hagahai people of Papua New Guinea because they seemed to have immunity from leukaemia. The people concerned were not informed about the patent nor were they given any compensation. And yet whoever discovers a cure for leukaemia stands to make a lot of money.
I wondered what Amanda would have thought of all this. She struggled throughout the twelve years of her illness to balance her need for drugs and medicines with alternative therapies which would improve her quality of life. (She wrote about this in her article 'How shall we live?' NI 272 on Medicine). But she also believed fiercely in a better and fairer world and I knew that she would not have approved of any 'cure' that was based on exploitation of other people.
On the other hand, I would have given anything to be able to keep her alive for just a little longer.
And so began my investigation into genes. An investigation fraught with emotion; and fraught with complex ethical issues like the one that might have faced Amanda; issues full of contradictions with no clear way forward.
These questions go right to the heart of things; to life itself: What makes us human? How shall we live? How should we treat animals, plants, the environment around us? What price a life?
They are questions that neither science nor medicine can answer. They were the kinds of questions that Amanda faced every day during the course of her illness. They are, of course, unanswerable.
This magazine attempts to answer them. But I hope that whether you agree with it or not you will be inspired to action, to find out more about the world of genetic engineering. It is just as daunting as you imagine, full of wierd creatures and strange thoughts. But it is also relevant to each and every one of us; to what we eat, how we reproduce, how we behave and perhaps, in the end, to how we die.
Nikki van der Gaag
for the New Internationalist Co-operative
Illustration by Polyp