New Report Calls for Broad Ethics of Emerging Technologies
The emerging field of synthetic biology draws on a variety of technologies, including genetic engineering and nanotechnology, to engineer biological systems to perform novel tasks. As the science and its applications develop, instead of creating a “new kind” of ethics for each new techno-scientific arena, a comprehensive approach is needed to address ethical and social issues of emerging technologies as a whole, according to a report by Erik Parens, Josephine Johnston, and Jacob Moses of The Hastings Center. Synthetic biology promises significant advances in areas such as biofuels, specialty chemicals, agriculture, and medicine but also poses potential risks.
Commissioned by the Synthetic Biology Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Ethical Issues in Synthetic Biology: An Overview of the Debates analyzes how the ethical issues raised by a variety of emerging technologies are often similar and familiar. The authors find that these similarities are abundant enough to justify developing an ethical framework that cuts across emerging and converging technologies. “Rather than stove-piping ethical questions into the hyphenated areas of bio-ethics, nano-ethics, neuro-ethics, and so on, it is time to begin developing an ethics of emerging technologies as a whole,” said Erik Parens in a discussion of the report’s findings at the Woodrow Wilson Center on June 24. Access the free report at http://www.synbioproject.org/library/publications/archive/synbio3/.
Gregory Kaebnick, also of The Hastings Center, described the Center’s new, multi-year project examining the ethical issues raised in the report in greater depth. That project is also funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
“Given the rate at which new technologies are emerging a comprehensive ethical approach should be developed to more readily identify and address ethical challenges and foster a productive public dialogue about social implications,” said David Rejeski, director of the Synthetic Biology Project. “Synthetic biology provides both a test case and an opportunity to get in front of these issues.”
Source: The Hastings Center