Ending the Test for Extra Chromosomes

The CDF, the advocacy center, and Science for the People would all like to take credit for the end to screening because it would demonstrate for them the legitimate right of the public to affect the academic research it funds.

The first official body to consider the point was the Med School's standing committee on research, chaired by Dr. Dana L. Farnsworth, Oliver Professor of Hygiene emeritus. The Farnsworth committee approved the research. The matter was subsequently reviewed by that body which the National Institute of Health legally empowers within every institution to scrutinize the ethics of the research it funds: a human studies committee that must include community members. The committee at the Med School was chaired by Dr. Herbert Benson, associate professor of Medicine, and included three non-Harvard members whose "community" pedigree has been bitterly questioned by opponents of the research.

The Benson committee also approved Walzer's methods and research in a decision announced this January 10.

Beckwith's continued remonstration brought the Walzer research to a meeting of the Medical Faculty in mid-March, with a proposal that the faculty reopen investigation of the ethics of the research. The issue attracted the largest faculty turnout in years and apparently galvanized traditionalists who feel that the validity of a researcher's work should not be the consideration of his colleagues. The faculty voted, 199-35, not to disinter the issue.

That definitive vote, however, has proved less than definitive.


Neither the CDF nor the Advocacy Center was satisfied with the medical establishment's seeming disregard for the concept of informed parental consent, and Beckwith's continued agiatation on those political issues--notably clinical genetics and "psychotechnology"-- that he does not want to be "medicalized" has earned him enemies on the medical faculty.

And supporters of Walzer and his right to investigate the XYY matter would also like to see Walzer acknowledge the pressure of the outside groups. Even Park Gerald, Walzer's associate, foresees a "terrible precedent" and says that other colleagues of his, warned by Walzer's retiring example, do not want to touch controversial research.

"It's my belief that he [Walzer] was influenced by the pressure," Gerald says. "And I wish that he would state it because I have thousands of people across the country up in arms, incensed at Beckwith."

Walzer acknowledges that the struggle tired him out and claims he lost a year of research while fighting. And while declining to answer any questions about the matter, he adds, "Sure I'm tired and sure I'm downtrodden, but to conclude that that's why I stopped the screening is just wrong."

Gerald says that he is concerned for those doctors who will not pursue research in genetics for fear of ideological reprisal.

"They can't afford the time to argue with the Beckwiths of the world," Dr. Gerald says. "It's not whether Beckwith is right or wrong. It's that Beckwith has damaged the prospect of providing advanced patient care through innovation."