to discuss implications during AAAS symposium Feb. 20
Concern Grows That Biological Weapons Could Target Ethnic Groups
20, 2001-- What if terrorist groups, or a secret
scientific organization sponsored by a nation, were to 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 there adequate international laws in place to
deter this kind of research and to punish the people involved?
are questions that biomedical ethicist Jonathan Moreno of the University
of Virginia will discuss during his talk "Biological Weapons and
Policy Implications of Synthesized Genomes," on Feb. 20 at the annual
meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
in San Francisco.
is emerging international concern about the possibilities of ethnic
warfare using targeted biological weapons," says Moreno, who is
the director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at the University
of Virginia. "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
has 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.
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
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.
is a growing realization that a treaty may be needed to directly
address ethnically targeted weapons development, and it would need
to include punishment for researchers as well as their sponsors,"
Moreno says. "We need to get ahead of the problem before we are
faced with it."
Fariss Samarrai, (804) 924-3778