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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 17, July - August 1997

UK Doctors Warn of Genetic Weapons

On 1 July, the British Medical Association (BMA) released a report into the possibility of the development of genetic weapons. The study group, headed by Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, concentrated particularly on the scope for misusing genetic therapy, or therapeutic proteins. According to Dr. Nathanson:

"If we can target people to have a therapeutic effect then maybe you could put something in that is dangerous. ... If that is the case, and it is likely to be the case, then it is possible to say we may have a weapon which was a virus or a chemical compound which has a genetic targeting component... We have to recognise that there is a potential for weapons with a fair degree of selectivity and extraordinary awfulness."

Dr. Nathanson urged the international community to be proactive in seeking to forestall such new weapons:

"If we do think such weapons are feasible...a ban that works would be needed... It would need international collaboration and cooperation. ... One of the things we have to learn is not to wait until the technology has been learned and dispersed around the world before we ban them."

Report: Fight genetic weapons, British doctors urge, Reuters World Service, 1 July.

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