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Combating suffering no matter what


Ethics and rights
James Watson Scientist
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In general, I’m for doing anything that would improve the quality of an individual family’s life. So, that’s sort of the principle I start with, so if it helps a couple good. And I don’t care about, I don’t try and think through whether it’s good or bad for the country, or good or bad for anyone else, I just think it’s too hard to, the individual people are so different in what they want out of life that I wouldn’t want someone to tell me what sort of child I should have or what, because I would disagree, and it’s so important too, I guess. There’s nothing more important than what your family is like. And not having any religious feelings and never really had at any time in my life seems to me makes you so much freer, so I’m not worried about, and I’m not worried about offending people by their faith, because I think if they want to be offended I can't do anything about it, it’s not going to change me or what's good for me. I know I agreed with, when Francis gave that talk, that it shouldn’t be declared alive until two days after birth, so that you wouldn’t too rapidly keep an infant alive who has no future. You know I don’t believe in the sanctity of life, I just want to face life as it is, so sanctity of life is either religion or philosophy, and I think they just get in your way. So, you know, some of the things that Peter Singer says, you know, he almost didn’t get his Princeton position, because of this, but, on the other hand, what Peter Singer writes about animal rights I find almost demented. He wants to give rights to animals, I don’t think rights exist. Who do they come from? I think we can collectively say we have a need for an education and we have a responsibility, sort of in this to see that young people get educated. So, you know, we have needs and responsibilities. This concept to right I think is, it’s just fucked upped everyone, you know. No-one, you know, to me has human rights. The Chinese [unclear], you know, don’t respect human rights. I just find this question never should have been asked.
Do you think it’s okay to select embryos on a base of sex if you want a boy or you want a girl?
Yes, of course.
And what about manipulating the genes in it?
Oh, if I could, you know, if you could, you know, to the extent in pre-implantation techniques. You know, get rid of the curse that the Hemingway family, of bipolar disease. So, you know, you don’t want say, every generation there’s someone to blow their brains out through a rifle. That's a terrible situation! So I’ll just get rid of the gene and, you know, embryo rights, what the Catholic Church says, I think they’re, you want to be kind to say it’s a medieval thought and, you know, medieval thoughts really have no place today.
You know that most bipolars though, if given the choice would you prefer to have been normal or bipolar, they usually say I’d rather have been bipolar?
I had a nephew who died a bipolar, I have strong feelings, and I'm looking at it from the viewpoint of a parent. Should parents have to go through the agony of a bipolar child? I say no! Not if you have the choice. You know part of the reason that they saying they wanted it, that’s slightly crazy! So, you know, should you take equal credence of someone who’s crazy or, you know, different? So, you know, parents have needs or limits, you know, to how they can, what you can ask someone to do.
You know that Carl Djerassi has this view that very soon middle-class children will all be born by in vitro fertilization and you’ll select on, you know, where we know enough-
I think we will, you got to be careful. Certainly in vitro fertilization let’s women have children later, and so it will increase for that reason, and then, but then you’ve got to worry about the age of the father and the knowledge that we accumulate mutations as men get older, and so the chance of having a genetically damaged child will increase with the age of the father probably means in a wise society you would store sperm at the age 15, and then use it when you want to have a child. It sounds, but I know, you know, someone who had cancer or radiation therapy, and prostate, but took out his sperm and has had three children with that. So, you know, it hasn’t I think being sensible is, you know even people who are not, don’t reason that much, after all follow the leader and people will follow the leaders if it becomes the custom. And, you know, there’s less autistic children born, because all the sperm are coming from 15 year-olds instead of 55 year-old professional academics. So it’ll be good!
If you were doing it again you would freeze your sperm at 15.
For sure. Well, you know, I have a schizophrenic son, you know. Did that mutation occur between when I was 15 and -? Assuming it was from me and not from his mother. But, you know, the fact that I can give a risk factor for me and not my wife, I couldn’t say that, but of course, I think my father’s father was bipolar that’s why he was so unsuccessful as a stock broker. And there’s just so much to learn about these diseases and they’re proving to be much more complex than we thought, we might have thought, you know, a bipolar gene. Now, they say it’s not going to be that way, so, but I just want to get the knowledge as fast as possible, we’re going to have to have some sort of big science and just say that getting the data sooner is worth, you know, not letting every individual psychiatrist think he can be part of the game or have his own geneticist. It’s not going to go that way.

American molecular biologist James Dewey Watson is probably best known for discovering the structure of DNA for which he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His long career has seen him teaching at Harvard and Caltech, and taking over the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. From 1988 to 1992, James Watson was head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. His current research focuses on the study of cancer.

Listeners: Walter Gratzer Martin Raff

Walter Gratzer is Emeritus Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at King's College London, and was for most of his research career a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council. He is the author of several books on popular science. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and has known Jim Watson since that time

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 9 minutes, 21 seconds

Date story recorded: November 2008 and October 2009

Date story went live: 18 June 2010