LONDON — The first annual report of the UK's Human Genetics Commission, (HGC) published on 28 September 2001, contains this unequivocal message: as the pace of change in genetic research quickens and the consequences become more widespread, the public will be consulted every step of the way.

This quest for openness and public involvement is the overriding theme of the commission's report, entitled 'Debating the ethical future of human genetics'. After a year in which a great deal of effort went into finding out what people think about genetics, the commission is now in the process of setting up a 100-strong consultative panel comprising those directly affected by genetic disorders — plus family members and carers — to act as a sounding board for its reports and recommendations.

This approach is undeniably the most democratic way of driving genetics forward. But it also throws up questions about whether the...

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