weapons could target ethnic groups
a terrorist group, or a secret scientific organization sponsored
by a nation, develop a biological weapon so precise it could target
only members of a particular ethnic group? Is this kind of ethnic
biological warfare already being planned?
are questions that biomedical ethicist Jonathan Moreno will discuss
as an invited speaker next week at the annual meeting of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco. He
will also address whether there are adequate international laws
in place to deter this kind of research and to punish the people
"There is emerging international concern about the possibilities
of ethnic warfare using targeted biological weapons," says
Moreno, director of U.Va.'s Center
for Biomedical Ethics. "It is already known that the
old apartheid government in South Africa was conducting research
for the possible development of biological agents that could be
used against the black population. They were particularly interested
in seeking ways to sterilize women of color. There have also been
allegations that Israel has shown an interest in these kinds of
targeted bioweapons. The international community will need to
strongly address such threats in the near future."
served as senior staff for two Clinton administration advisory
commissions, one on radiation experiments conducted on humans
following WWII, and another on research conducted on people with
impaired decision-making abilities. As a result of this work,
he published the book Undue Risk: Secret State Experiments on
Humans, now available in paperback from Routledge.
Moreno is currently a member of the National Human Research Protections
Advisory Committee, which advises the Secretary of Health and
Human Services on ethical issues in clinical trials.
was during my commission work on human radiation experiments that
I became aware of the potential threat from ethnically targeted
biological weapons," he says. "I'm concerned that there are no
international treaties specifically addressing this type of research."
says that the International Convention Against Genocide probably
would cover both the use and research and development of ethnically
targeted biological weapons. "But the international genetics community
will surely not welcome this association of genetic science, however
misused, with genocide and the specter of eugenics," he says.
United States has signed a treaty prohibiting biological weapons
research, but only involving offensive weapons. He says there
are ways to conduct research for offensive purposes under the
guise of defense or even as basic disease research.
weapons could be developed in a variety of forms," Moreno says.
"Obvious examples include the use of the anthrax virus, which
could have immediate, devastating effects on a population. But
less obvious weapons are theoretically possible, such as genetically
targeted agents that could effect the birthrates of a population,
infant mortality rates, disease proclivity, and even crop production.
It might take decades to realize an attack has even occurred.
By that point a population of people might be seriously diminished.