extension of an experiment to insert a recombinant gene into patients as a marker for new therapeutic approaches to cancer. One member (the Environmental Protection Agency) of the quintet of federal agencies forming the Biotechnology Science Coordinating Committee, which was established in 1986 to coordinate the regulation of recombinant DNA biotechnology in the United States, has declared it will no longer attend meetings until the committee is reformed. In England, the Advisory Committee on Genetic Modification advises the Health and Safety Executive and Ministry of Environment, the statutory authority for regulation of use of recombinant DNA technology in Her Majesty 's government. In Brussels, proposed council directives dealing with “contained use of genetically modified organisms” and “deliberate release to the environment of genetically modified organisms ” have been sent to a commission. On the basis of these directives, as amended, all member states are expected to enact statutes that provide for harmonization of the rules for recombinant DNA technology throughout the European Economic Community.

Long before the outcomes of the Asilomar conference could be properly assessed, lists of its putative deficiencies or limitations as a policymaking model for the recombinant DNA debate were being compiled. 58 Yet hindsight, though a powerful weapon, can easily be warped by time. Judgments of the Asilomar conference must be conducted using tight rules of what is admissible as evidence. Certainly, there should be no mention of the lack of appearance over the 15 or so years since the conference was held of any of the hypothetical hazards that were so earnestly debated there. Likewise, evidence of the bottomless cornucopia of invaluable new knowledge that these same techniques have already provided and will continue to supply to humankind must also be scrupulously barred. The scales that weigh Asilomar have to be calibrated using the context of all that contributed at that time to give the event its significance as the climactic end of the beginning of recombinant DNA research.


1. Philippe Kourilsky, Les Artisans de L'Hérédité (Paris: Editions Odile Jacob, 1987), pp. 143-144. One of six French participants at Asilomar, Kourilsky provides a foreign scientist 's view of this American conference, including his concern that missing among the participants were “ecologists with a global point of view. ” See also Philippe Kourilsky, “Manipulations génétiques in vitro: compterendu de la conference de Pacific Grove,” Biochimie 57, No. 2 (1975): vii; and the transcript of an interview with Philippe Kourilsky, March 20, 1976, contained in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Archives, MIT Recombinant Historical Collection, Box 9, Folder 113.

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