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July 16, 1997

The Ethics of Human Gene Therapy

JAMA. 1997;278(3):252-253. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550030092047

Over 100 years ago Sir William Osler reminded us that "[e]verywhere the old order changes and happy they who can change with it" (The Principles and Practice of Medicine [1895]). Physicians have not always been good guessers, however, when it comes to the future direction of clinical practice and therapy. Thirty-two years ago, JAMA published a news story about a conference at the University of Pennsylvania at which physicians, scientists, and educators gave their predictions about the state of medicine in the year 2000.1 Such recorded predictions as "the practical elimination of the cancer problem in most parts of the world" and "a good supply of spare [body] parts, either human or mechanical" suggest the risks inherent in accurate crystal gazing.

Thus, with the appropriate caveats invoked, one can offer the prophecy that within the next three decades, techniques of human gene transfer and manipulation will