Interview with Cochin Institute Director Alex Kahn
DURBAN, South Africa, 6 SEPT. 2001 (ZENIT).
—Alex Kahn is worried about genetics.
"It is a fact that genetics offers possibilities that can
instrumentalize and generate new forms of racism," he said.
Kahn is director of the Cochin Institute of Molecular Genetics in Paris,
and secretary of the European Life Science High Level Group,
headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.
In this interview, Kahn confirms the warning given by the Holy See on
the eve of the World Conference Against Racism, in the document
"The Church in Face of Racism: For a More Fraternal Society."
At the invitation of UNESCO, which has organized a round table on
"Genetics and Human Rights," Kahn is attending the U.N. summit
Q: How can the risk of new forms of racism related to genetics be
Kahn: The risk comes from what we define as sociobiology. What formerly
was demonstrated through physical features, today is demonstrated
For example, even in important scientific journals studies have appeared
that announced the discovery of the gene of intelligence,
aggressiveness, love and such things, creating the expectation of an
intervention in the genes that might change individual characteristics.
Apart from the fact that genes act in combination, that is, a single
gene does not determine physical and psychic characteristics, it is
evident that the danger exists of arriving at a concept of
"genetically incorrect" persons or of establishing a
"minimum quality" for children to be born. And this is
Q: A real selection of race. In the draft of the Durban plan of action
there is allusion to a genetic temptation that has never disappeared. At
the beginning of the 20th century, the genetics movement was very
popular in the Anglo-Saxon world, and it played an important part in the
formulation of Nazi theories. Do you think that movement is reviving
Kahn: The root of everything is in the theory of evolution, or rather,
the application of that theory to humanity, which defines different
degrees of development according to evolution. Eugenics is the daughter
of the latter, but eugenics is being transformed today.
If a century ago it was primarily concerned with avoiding the
"spread" of poverty and of certain sicknesses—for example,
through the control of births—today it is directed to the elimination
of certain genes in order to form human groups of better quality.
However, it should be clarified that this has nothing to do with
science. It is ideology that uses science for its own ends.
Q: In any case, science has established that there are no biological
differences that justify a theory of race.
Kahn: It's true, but today, for example, certain theories return in a
new way, which force science. For example, it is reported that a
chromosome associated with intelligence has been found in a certain
region and that, in this same region, genes appears in a different way
according to the ethnic group. Herein lies the "justification"
However, it must be clearly stated that science cannot be challenged to
give an answer on racism. I will explain: to affirm that racism is
illegitimate because in the biological plane, especially the genetic,
races do not exist, means that if certain differences existed, racism
would be justified.
Therefore, it is a contradiction to want to base anti-racism on science.
There is no scientific definition for human dignity. This is a
philosophical concept that antecedes science. In any event, I would like
it if, together with the dangers caused by the genetic revolution, the
great positive opportunities offered, for example, in the treatment of
sicknesses, would be kept in mind.
Q: This leads us to speak of cloning, both reproductive as well as
therapeutic. Today there is an appeal to scientific freedom for many
Kahn: There is no doubt that science needs freedom, but freedom also has
its limits, derived from the freedom of individuals. For example, my
freedom is limited by yours, which must also be guaranteed. Therefore,
experiments that damage the freedom of persons are inadmissible.
However, above all it is not up to science but to society to decide on
the technical application of discoveries.
Q: It could be said that in cloning, the right of the person is not
injured, it is simply created.
Kahn: It is not like that. Why is it that you and I at this moment can
feel free while we talk? Because I have not chosen the color of your
eyes, or hair, or your sex, just as your parents did not decide it for
This is why cloning, with the possibility of determining the physical
and psychic characteristics of the unborn, is absolutely incompatible
with freedom. ZE01090601