Author granted license

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Document Type


Publication Date





Massachusetts Medical Society




During the 2000 presidential campaign, Al Gore characterized the DNA code as a secret code like that of the Nazis. In his words, “with the completion of the Human Genome, we are on the verge of cracking another enemy's secret code. When we intercept and decipher the coded messages that cancer sends from cell to cell, we will turn the tide, and win the war against cancer.” Gore was expanding the metaphor of the war on cancer, and commandeering the DNA code in the service of that metaphor. At about the same time, then president Bill Clinton called the DNA code “the language in which God created life.” The metaphors we use to describe a thing profoundly affect how we think about it. A variety of metaphors have been used to describe human DNA, including “the book of life,” the “book of man,” “the holy grail of biology,” and the “blueprint of life.”


From The New England Journal of Medicine, George J. Annas, The Limits of State Laws to Protect Genetic Information, Volume 345, Page 385 Copyright ©(2001) Massachusetts Medical Society. Reprinted with permission.

Link to Publisher Site (BU Community Subscription)



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.