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Genetically MODIfied Babies In Gujarat?

By Shobha Aggarwal & Dr. P.S. Sahni

13 June, 2016

“If there are two daughters born in the home, and the third child born is also a daughter, then she is told, now I want a son, so get another wife. Even if the fault is with the man, the entire burden of the fault is on the woman’s head, and so our government and I have decided that for all such problems, there should be a special hospital, where families can come and there would be research on why, for what reason, back-to-back daughters are born… there are some families that have two sons and the home wants a daughter…”

“…There are physically deformed children being born and miscarriages that are stressful. I keep listening to these stories. But today, there is technology. I can assure you that this can be treated in the womb… All such women who are pregnant… families who give birth to speech- and hearing-impaired and physically challenged children… On the one hand, there will be a hospital where such mothers can go… and by sonography they can be treated, and on the other hand there can be research on such families to find out what is the reason behind this? Whose DNA should be changed to get rid of these problems? Therefore in this year’s budget, a woman and child care hospital will be ready in Ahmedabad in eight months which will solve these problems.” (emphasis provided)

- Anandiben Patel, Chief Minister of Gujarat, India told a MahilaSammelan in PaviJetpur in ChhotaUdepur on the occasion of Gujarat Foundation Day.
(Indian Express, May1, 2016)

Genetically modified babies in Gujarat? That’s a bombshell! There has been neither any national debate on the issue; nor any consultation with stake-holders; Parliament is being by-passed as no corresponding law on the subject has been enacted;the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is taken by surprise;so too, the Indian Medical Association of allopathic doctors. No scientific-ethical studies have been undertaken before going ahead with genetically modified babies. With just one country (U.K.) in the whole world having legislated on this issue in 2015, is India being projected as the second country to start genetic modification of babies. Is this part of Make in India policy? There is deathly silence of the so called national press on the issue; there are no op-ed articles or editorials in major national English language dailies.

A duly elected Chief Minister of a State swearing by the Indian Constitution ought to follow a policy whereby boys and girls are treated equally. It should not be the business of the government to enter the bedrooms of citizens and ensure birth of a boy (or rarely girl) in a family! Let Nature perform its role. On the other hand equal respect should be accorded to couples who opt not to have a child or are infertile. The cause of infertility lies in the female (1/3rd cases), male (1/3rd cases) and both male and female in the remaining 1/3rd of the cases. It should be the duty of the government to hammer the point so that there is no blame-game within the family. As females have XX chromosomes and the males have XY chromosomes, it is the Male Y chromosome that is responsible for the gender of the foetus and women are not to be blamed. Such information needs to be widely and publicly disseminated. This is the job of the State government. Besides, adoption should be encouraged amongst infertile couples, LGBTQ community and single people.

If – as the Chief Minister of Gujarat has expressed – the services of the medical establishment are used to ensure a couple gets a son after one or two daughters, then the bias against the girl-child is all too patent. There is no need to expend resources to diagnose why couples continue to have daughters only. This, anyway, cannot be part of state policy.In any case as per the 2001 census report there were 920 females to 1000 males in Gujarat; this was brought down to 919 females to 1000 males as per 2011 census report. Of course both the figures are less than the national average of 940 females to 1000 males as per 2011 census report. The concern should be to have more females. The Chief Minister of Gujarat has cleverly talked of a situation where a couple desperately wants to have a girl after one or two boys. This is an exceptional/isolated case. It has been juxtaposed in her publicly aired comments to hide the real purpose of ensuring a boy is born after one or two girls – which strengthens the stigma against the girl-child.

In the early 1980’s the ICMR – the apex medical body for conducting medical research – started amniocentesis and ultrasonography (USG) tests on pregnant women to detect congenital defects/anomalies in the foetus. The side-effect of this project was the emergence of large scale, unregulated use of USG on a commercial basis to detect the gender of the foetus; of course female foetuses got aborted. Around 0.7 million cases of female foeticide occur annually in India!So much for the hum-bug of detection of congenital anomalies in the foetuses!

Earlier during the Internal Emergency period 1975-77 under the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi a programme of population control through vasectomy emerged as the brain child of Sanjay Gandhi – the son of the PM and an extra-constitutional body. Millions of forcible vasectomies were performed; even un-married or very old men were operated upon. Michael Egnor in his post ‘The Inconvenient Truth About Population Control, Part 2; Science Czar John Holdren's Endorsement of Involuntary Sterilization’ writes:

“The Indian sterilization program, based on principles that Holdren explicitly endorsed in his textbook, sterilized 8 million people -- 6.2 million men and 2 million women against their will. There were 1,774 deaths due to botched sterilization procedures, according to the government's own statistics. Strong legal penalties were instituted against people who resisted, including denial of irrigation water to farmers, denial of food rations, electricity, and medical care. The principle of the Indian socialist government's sterilization program was, "Who refuses sterilization shall not eat." Popular outrage at the population control atrocities played a major role in the fall of the government in elections in 1977, and it continues to play a significant role in Indian politics to this day.

Dr. Holdren, who is now President Obama's top science advisor, explicitly endorsed the Indian government's forced sterilization of millions of men.”

Lessons from history of eugenics

Hitler was to some extent inspired by forced sterilization program of California – which by 1933 was in the forefront amongst all other U.S. states combined in undertaking maximum number of forceful sterilizations. The Nazis targeted prisoners, dissidents, physically disabled persons, deaf and blind, and homosexuals. Over four hundred thousand people were forcibly sterilized; and more than three hundred thousand killed under a euthanasia program. Nazi Germany had enacted the ‘Law for the Protection of Hereditarily Diseases Offspring’ on July 14, 1933. Under this law the duly constituted Genetic Health Court could decide if a citizen suffered from a genetic disorder – the vast majority of which were not even genetic – and to forcibly sterilize such a citizen. The financial support of the Rockefeller foundation and the technological inputs of Dehomag – a subsidiary of IBM in that period of history – is well documented. Once the Nuremberg laws were passed in 1935, it was mandatory for marriage partners to get tested to exclude hereditary diseases. All this was undertaken to ensure the alleged purity of the Aryan race.

A progressive section of western scientists and thinkers have lately drawn attention to the following significant facts, observation and opinions:

i. Genetically modified crops/animals already exist; but in the large number of trials that failed, the results of the unwanted crops/animals could just be thrown away without much ethical consideration.

ii. The uncertainty which genetic modification involves – prevention of one genetic disease may trigger another one.

iii. The importance of environmental influence on health deserves to be addressed; once the environmental factors are improved the DNA would function in the best possible ways.

iv. For a stable community, diseases and variability in a population are a must as emphasized by Thomas Malthus in the eighteenth century. While presently the research is reportedly confined to genetically modifying the mitochondrial DNA, but sooner rather than later the nuclear DNA would also be subjected to manipulation. This would in the long run lead to crash of human population.

The state of Gujarat stands completely polarized along religious lines. One of the most violent anti-reservation stir took place there in the early 1980s. The anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002 has been compared to genocide of Muslims. If the socio-political environment is suffused with biases and hatred towards the subordinate castes and religious minorities and people are at tenterhooks all the while, the chance of infants being born with congenital anomalies, as also still-births and abortions is increased. True, the genetic factors are important. The Gujarat government should ensure peace and tranquility; treat all citizens as equal; provide security to the vulnerable sections of society. The plan to have a hospital for genetically modifying babies in Gujarat should be shelved.

In India the caste-system actually translates to a primitive eugenic concept. Even the political leaders, who were in the fore-front of movement against the British rulers, were wary of dismantling the caste-system. There is no reason why present-day politicians should be allowed to get genetic modification program operational in India. Instead inter-caste, inter-religion, inter-racial marriagesshould be encouraged to have a healthy genetic pool in the general population.

[Shobha Aggarwal & Dr. P.S. Sahni are members of PIL Watch Group and can be contacted at: [email protected]]



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