Letter from Maxine Singer to participants in the 1973 Gordon Conference on Nucleic Acids
Item is a photocopy.
Number of Image Pages:
2 (119,331 Bytes)
1973-06-21 (June 21, 1973)
Original Repository: Stanford University Libraries. Department of Special Collections and University Archives. Paul Berg Papers
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Recombinant DNA Technologies and Researchers' Responsibilities, 1973-1980
For enclosure referred to in this letter see:
Letter from Maxine Singer and Dieter Soll to Philip Handler [ca. 21 June 1973]
June 21, 1973
To all participants in the 1973 Gordon Conference on Nucleic Acids:
Those who attended Friday morning's session will know what the
attached letter is all about. For those who were not present Friday
morning, the following remarks, which I made then, will explain the issue.
"First I will describe briefly the question that has been raised by
some participants in the Conference, as I see it. We all share the
excitement and enthusiasm of yesterday morning's speaker who pointed out
that the scientific developments reported then would permit interesting
experiments involving the linking together of a variety of DNA molecules.
The cause of the excitement and enthusiasm is two-fold. First, there is
our fascination with an evolving understanding of these amazing molecules
and their biological action and second, there is the idea that such
manipulations may lead to useful tools for alleviation of human health
problems. Nevertheless, we are all aware that such experiments raise moral
and ethical issues because of the potential hazards such molecules may
engender. In fact, potential hazards exist in some of the viruses many of
us are already studying. Other problems will arise with hybrid molecules
we are contemplating. Furthermore, these hazards present problems to
ourselves during our work and are potentially hazardous to the public.
Because we are doing these experiments, and because we recognize the
potential difficulties, we have a responsibility to concern ourselves with
the safety of our coworkers and laboratory personnel as well as with the
safety of the public. We are asked this morning to consider this responsibility.
I fully understand that I have not discussed this topic exhaustively,
and that there are even arguments to be made about the factual content of
my statement. However, having the problem raised so late in the meeting
will not permit substantive discussion of the problem but only proposals
concerning possible action or inaction on the issue. In fifteen minutes
the discussion will be closed and we will vote by a show of hands on any
proposals that have been made and seconded. We will then proceed with the
full scientific program planned for this morning."
The group voted by a majority of 78 out of about 95 in attendance
(142 were enrolled at the Conference) to send a letter, from the Conference,
to the Presidents of the National Academies of Science and Medicine. The
remainder voted either for a similar letter but with individuals signing
if they so chose, or individual action. In addition, a majority of those
in attendance voted to try and publicize the letter in SCIENCE magazine.
Because many participants had left by Friday, it was decided to send out
a draft of the letter to everyone. It is enclosed. Please send any
suggestions for revisions to me by July 15. Also, please indicate below
your approval or disapproval and mail to me by the same date. I will
assume that anyone remaining silent agrees with the majority and has no
serious objection to the draft of the letter.
Of course, these problems are not peculiar to the United States.
Those of you who are abroad may wish to send our letter, or a similar
one, to appropriate organizations in your own country.