For Immediate Release: Tuesday, January 24, 2023, 10:00 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time
Media Contact: Kara Flynn, (202) 257-8424, email@example.com
Report and Board of Directors statement acknowledge contributions to racism and silence in the face of unjust uses of human genetics, as well as the organization’s pivots toward justice
ROCKVILLE, MD – The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) today apologized for the participation of some of its early leaders in the American eugenics movement, as well as the Society’s failure to consistently acknowledge and oppose harms and injustices tied to the field, including use of human genetics to feed racism, eugenics, and other systemic forms of discrimination. The Society also pledged to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; better integrate equity principles in the study and use of human genetics in research and policy; and consistently oppose its unjust use.
The actions stem from a report, also released today, of the ASHG Facing Our History – Building an Equitable Future initiative. The 27-page report documents roles played, or support provided by early ASHG presidents and other leaders in eugenics programs and highlights times when the Society actively chose not to speak out when human genetics was used to advance racist ends. Finally, it highlights moments in recent decades when the field pivoted toward greater inclusion and equity.
As part of its vision to realize the benefits of human genetics and genomics research for people everywhere, the ASHG Board of Directors established diversity as a top strategic priority in 2018. Following the height of racial and social unrest in 2020, it charged the Society to add this review of its own history. The resulting Facing Our History-Building an Equitable Future initiative includes the report, which was informed by a 13-member Expert Panel of eminent human geneticists, historians, clinician-scientists, and social scientists, and equity scholars. The report process included an intensive research and environmental scan, four Expert Panel meetings, and a community dialogue.
In a statement issued with the report, the ASHG Board of Directors apologized and issued a set of near-term actions and a plan to promptly identify additional steps after securing additional input from the community. “ASHG acknowledges and apologizes for the participation of some ASHG founders, past presidents, and other leaders in promoting eugenic ideals that resulted in harms to people of minoritized groups,” the statement says. “The Board also apologizes for ASHG’s reticence and silence at times when it could have publicly refuted the misuse of genetics to feed discrimination and racism. [The Society]… decries that genetics has been used to advance systemic harms against people of many marginalized communities, including those based on ‘race’ and ancestry, religious affiliation, indigenous ancestry, LGBTQ+ identities, and ability.” The Society also called on the broader human genetics community to use the moment for greater reflection and action and reaffirmed the value of human genetics knowledge to serve all people.
“The report and its findings are painful and document a history that must be told and taught so we can prevent its resurgence,” said ASHG President Brendan Lee, MD, PhD. “The human genetics research community is deeply committed to realizing a future in which all people benefit from this knowledge, and this promising research depends on full and equitable participation. By acknowledging our history and apologizing for wrongs, the Society seeks genuinely to form a stronger foundation for trust and inclusion. With today’s release, we are making concrete commitments to integrate lessons learned and broader equitable practices throughout our programs, public advocacy and communication, and leadership.”
The report identified four major themes:
- ASHG and the American Eugenics Movement
- ASHG was Silent when Genetics was Misused to Justify Social Harms
- ASHG’s Evolving Role to Advance Ethical and Legal Protections
- ASHG Strives for a More Equitable and Just Future
The Society announced it will take the following immediate actions:
- Publish the full report and statement publicly online and in its flagship journal, enabling them to become part of public and field dialogue and progress
- Increase integration of equity into its scientific and training initiatives, including content in its annual meeting, journals, and professional education programs
- Sustain advocacy for research diversity, equity and inclusion through its policy and communications agendas
- Continue to build the diversity and inclusivity of its leadership
- Suspend the use of individual names for its professional awards, pending review of any affiliation with eugenics or other harms
- Further prioritize DEI objectives within its upcoming 2024-2028 strategic plan.
“This time of reckoning with history is overdue, but it forms the foundation for a brighter future,” said Lee. “The report and statement are initial steps, and we are committed to initiate and strengthen ASHG programs that advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. Human genetics has transformative potential to serve human health and society, but we can succeed only if we have full representation and participation of all backgrounds and perspectives.”
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About the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG)
Founded in 1948, the American Society of Human Genetics is the primary professional membership organization for human genetics specialists worldwide. Its community of nearly 8,000 members include researchers, academicians, clinicians, laboratory practice professionals, genetic counselors, nurses, and others with an interest in human genetics. The Society serves scientists, health professionals, and the public by providing forums to: (1) share research results through the ASHG Annual Meeting and in The American Journal of Human Genetics and Human Genetics and Genomics Advances; (2) advance genetic research by advocating for research support; (3) educate current and future genetics professionals, health care providers, advocates, policymakers, educators, students, and the public about all aspects of human genetics; and (4) promote genetic services and support responsible social and scientific policies. For more information, visit: http://www.ashg.org.