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Monday, 26 June, 2000, 19:42 GMT 20:42 UK
Leaders' genetic code warning
Clinton and Blair
Clinton and Blair welcome the breakthrough
Click here to watch the joint news conference

US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair have issued a warning against the misuse of the map of the human genetic code.

The two leaders said the genome project raised huge ethical and moral implications and should be exploited only for the good of humankind.

I find all of this change deeply unsettling, but it's going to happen and it can do a lot of good for the world

Tony Blair
Mr Blair warned it would be humanity's responsibility to secure the privacy of the individual's genetic make-up. And he suggested a possible reshaping of the welfare system may be necessary to take account of longer and more active lifespans.

Mr Clinton and Mr Blair spoke via a trans-Atlantic satellite link after world scientists announced they had completed an 85% draft of the human genetic code.

They say further work will yield a fully finished 'book of life' containing all the code hidden in our DNA.

The leaders hailed the historic breakthrough, saying it could transform lives and eventually eradicate cancer and hereditary diseases.

'Remember our values'

Mr Clinton said: "It's possible that our children's children will know cancer only as a constellation of stars."

And he said he would always remember that the genome rough draft was presented in the year that Mr Blair's new son, Leo, was born. He joked to Mr Blair that Leo's life expectancy had just risen by about 25 years.

Today we are learning the language in which God created life

President Clinton
Mr Clinton pledged the US would support further research to complete the map and convert the knowledge into medical treatments.

But he warned people must not retreat from their oldest and most cherished values, and must remember that such treatment should be for everyone, not just the privileged few.

"We must guarantee that genetic information must never be used to stigmatise anyone," he said. "All of us are created equal and entitled to equal treatment."

"The most important fact of life is our common humanity," he added.

'Profound ethical implication'

The prime minister, paying tribute to the president, said the project demonstrated the way science and technology were driving the world forward.

Mr Blair said: "Let us be in no doubt about what we are witnessing today. A revolution in medical science whose implications far surpass even the discovery of antibiotics. The first great technological triumph of the 21st century.

"Every so often in the history of human endeavour there comes a breakthrough that takes mankind across the frontier and into a new era.

"Like President Clinton, I believe that today's announcement is such a breakthrough.

"But it's our responsibility to use it wisely," Mr Blair warned.

The ethical and moral implications were profound, he said, and the knowledge should be used freely for the common good of humanity.

It should not be used to invade human privacy, but was an opportunity to improve health and life.

He said: "The decision for us as humanity is whether we are to engage in the right co-operation, across national frontiers, so we can shape our destiny in a way that genuinely does benefit all our people, that makes the most of the possibilities and faces up to the challenges and dangers it poses."

'Different era'

Mr Blair told Mr Clinton: "I think of my little boy, Leo, growing up and learning and knowing things that his grandfather, after whom he was named, could not even have dreamt of.

We must guarantee that genetic information must never be used to stigmatise anyone

President Clinton
"It is not like different generations but different eras of human existence."

Mr Blair admitted: "I find all of this change deeply unsettling, but it's going to happen and it can do a lot of good for the world."

President Clinton in turn offered Mr Blair a partnership in working together on the project, but joked that it was easier for him as he would soon be gone.

This was a reference to his not standing again for office in the presidential elections, after serving two terms.

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See also:

26 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Leaders hail scientific revolution
26 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Scientists crack human code
03 Dec 99 | Sci/Tech
Book of life: Chapter one
23 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Small fly makes history
10 Dec 98 | Sci/Tech
Small worm makes history
26 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
G-Day for biology
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