University of Houston’s Rockwell Lecture Addresses Genetic Tampering

Campus talk on Jan. 17 concludes 15-part ‘Medical Ethics and the Holocaust’ series

The University of Houston's annual Elizabeth D. Rockwell Ethics and Leadership Lecture series features two national experts who will deliver a warning against tampering with the genetic code.

The event, which takes place Jan. 17, also is the concluding lecture of the 15-part "Medical Ethics and the Holocaust," series presented by the Holocaust Museum Houston.

The campus address takes place at 7 p.m. in the Cullen Performance Hall at the University of Houston, Entrance 1. Speakers will be Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health, and Christine Rosen, Ph.D., senior editor of The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society. They will pose the question of what happens when DNA tampering leads to genetic discrimination - the type of discrimination used against victims of the Holocaust more than 60 years ago.

The Rockwell lecture series was established in 2006 through a gift from UH alumna Elizabeth Rockwell, a fourth-generation Houstonian and longtime supporter of the university whose gifts have benefitted many UH areas, including business, law, science, math, alumni and the libraries. The university honored her with the 1992 CBA Alumni Award and the 1996 University of Houston Alumni Association Distinguished Alumna Award.

The university kicked off the "Medical Ethics and the Holocaust" series Sept. 9 by hosting a discussion with three Nobel Laureates. The concluding lecture will examine how advances in genetics have allowed medical professionals to define the way the genome functions and how genetic variation plays a role in one's health. Physicians are better able to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases. Consequences of these advances are genetic discrimination, inequitable access to health care and the inadequate oversight of genetic tests. Collins will discuss how it will take the full involvement of scientists, health care providers, policy-makers and society, together with an appreciation of history, to ensure that the medical benefits of the genome revolution are not misused.

Rosen will discuss how eugenics, the movement to improve the human race through better breeding that influenced the practices of the Third Reich, has long been held in disrepute. Nevertheless, she says, society continues to practice eugenics through sex selection, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and the abortion of fetuses diagnosed with diseases such as Down Syndrome. According to Rosen, despite the frequent notion of "designer babies" or "Brave New Worlds," the challenge of eugenics in the 21st century is not about preventing the rise of genetic "haves-and-have-nots." Instead, its focus is on the need of society to define what is meant by the term "healthy" - the same challenge faced by medical professionals in the 20th century.

The lecture is free, but advanced registration is required. The lecture also can be accessed via webcast or through The University of Texas' teleconferencing system at participating facilities. Please visit for more information.

For additional details about "Medical Ethics and the Holocaust," visit