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Ethics in Biotechnology

Why Ethics in Biotechnology

New technology Plurality of moral convictions Divergent economic, political, and social objectives Growing sensitivity of the public Doubts of the public about internal control mechanism of scientific institutions and the scientific community to adequately consider moral implications of research and its consequences Complexity of ethical issues involved

Morale and Ethics?

Morale Latin mores : custom, habit ... indicates the distinction between what is good and what is evil in the everyday life Ethics Greek ethos : tradition, habit ... the philosophical study of the principles at the basis of morale Etymology of the two words speaks one's mind: both ethics and morale are the result of the society's evolution towards "standard" behaviours. Operational definition of morale: ... those standards everyone wants everyone to follow, even if everyone elses following them means having to follow them oneself. (M. Davis)

Morale and Ethics

Morals Encompass all forms of human behaviour and action that is implicitly or explicitly aligned with values and norms Ethics is the methodological reflection on morals and law, i.e. identification and consideration of values and norms with which we align our action

Morale & Ethics

level LEGAL enforcement INSTITUTIONS restriction USUALLY FREE, UNLESS RIGHTS INVOLVED AGREED BY THE GROUP EVEN IF EVERYONE SAYS YES, I WILL NOT example Freedom to experiment, unless illegal Do No (direct) Harm (to patient) Will Refuse if there is INDIRECT HARM






Bioethics: A discipline dealing with the ethical implications of biological research and applications

The Bioethical Challenge

Is Biotechnology Morally Acceptable?

Two Kinds of Ethical Arguments Used to Evaluate Concerns Over Biotechnology

Extrinsic objections say the possible

consequences of some biotech applications are objectionable, but others may be acceptable GMOs are wrong because risks outweigh benefits. Intrinsic objections say the process of biotechnology is objectionable in itself GMOs are wrong , no matter how great the benefits.

1. Extrinsic objections

A. Unsafe for consumers


2. Extrinsic objections
B. Unsafe for environments superweeds
Herbicide resistance - canola gene flows into weedy relatives Bt toxin kills monarch butterfly larvae

Extrinsic objections
C. Unfair to small farmers Rich get richer, poor get poorer Vandana Shiva Monocultures of the Mind
she has established Navdanya, a movement for biodiversity conservation and farmers' rights

The Business of Science Challenge

Does the business of biotechnology corrupt the purpose and integrity of the process of the science?
Or can business and scientific partnerships be beneficial for society?


The Business of Science

Focusing on profits contradicts the purpose of science - to enhance or improve the quality of life Biotechnology commodifies life and leads to reductionist science

The spiraling costs of R & D required to bring a product to market justifies the closer ties of science and business This relationship has been beneficial to society and has contributed to the public good

Ethical arguments against GM foods

1. Extrinsic objections

2. Intrinsic objections

GM foods are wrong no matter how great the benefits may be.

Intrinsic objections
GM foods are wrong because its wrong to:
1. Play God 2. Invent world changing technology 3. Cross species boundaries 4. Reproduce by nonsexual means 5. Disrupt integrity, beauty, balance of nature 6. Harm sentient beings

Intrinsic objections

1. We should not play God

Intrinsic objections
1. Dont play God

High tech medicine

God wants us to genetically engineer food

Intrinsic objections

2. We should not change the world through new technology

Intrinsic objections
2. No world-changing technology


Intrinsic objections

3. We should not cross natural species boundaries

Intrinsic objections
3. Dont cross species

Counter-examples: Mules Hybrid wheat

Intrinsic objections

4. We should not use nonsexual means to reproduce

Intrinsic objections
4. Dont reproduce nonsexually

Counter-examples: GIFT and in vitro Plant cuttings

Intrinsic objections to ag biotech

5. We should not disrupt the integrity, beauty and balance of creation

Intrinsic objections to ag biotech

5. Dont disrupt nature

Problems: An extrinsic objection Is / ought problem

Intrinsic objections

6. We should not harm sentient beings

Intrinsic objections
6. Dont harm sentient beings

Problems: An extrinsic objection Meat-eaters accept harm to animals

Conclusion: Intrinsic objections are not sound

1. Playing God 2. Invent world changing technology 3. Cross species boundaries 4. Reproduce nonsexually 5. Disrupt integrity and beauty of nature 6. Harm sentient beings

Extrinsic objections
Unsafe for consumers? Food allergens, toxins Unsafe for environment?

Unintended effects on nontarget organisms Gene flow, development of resistant weeds

Unfair to small farmers? Rich get richer, poor get poorer

Extrinsic objections

Are valid concerns

Demand scientific and political attention

Extrinsic objections

Support: Regulatory oversight on case-by-case basis Do not support: a ban on all GM crops

Ethical arguments FOR GM foods

Potential to improve:

Diets in developing countries Efficiency of food production Safety and purity of food Agricultural sustainability Diversity of agro-ecosystems

Enhanced nutrition

Vitamin A Rice Iron Enhanced Rice Amino Acid Balance

Insect resistance
Bt corn
Insect resistance from Bacillus thuringiensis Non-toxic to humans Target insect: corn borer 40% U.S. Corn crop Bt Potential to reduce insecticide use

Disease resistance
Potatoes Squash Tomatoes Corn Rice Canola Soybeans Grapes Cantaloupes Cucumbers

Genetic engineering in microbes: enzymes

Recombinant Chymosin
Enzyme used for cheese making Originally from calf stomach Bovine gene expressed in GRAS microbes FDA approved 1990 Now used in 70% of U.S. cheese

Recombinant amino acids

Artificial sweetener Made from aspartic acid and phenylalanine Used in 5,000 products

Monosodium glutamate

Recombinant alpha amylase

Used to make HFCS Gras status in 1995 10% U.S. corn crop processed into syrups

The Challenge of Consumer Choice

Does society have an ethical obligation to maximize consumer knowledge and choice?

Consumer Choice The Issue of Labeling

Advocates of consumer labeling criticize efforts NOT to label food containing genetically modified organisms. They argue: If biotech foods are safe and risk free, then why are you afraid to let us know what we are buying? Consumers with food allergies, vegetarians, and those with religious dietary restrictions have a right to know Consumers should be able to choose the type and quality of food they consume, and the production system they want to support with their food dollar

Consumer Choice Opposition to Labeling

Labeling is unnecessary because biotech foods contain genetic material from other natural products - nothing is added that does not already exist in nature Organic labeling standards exist. If you are opposed to consuming genetically modified food ingredients, simply buy organic! Labeling does not change consumer behavior Why must everyone pay for the cost of labeling that is

Key Challenges of Agricultural Biotechnology

Can we capture the potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology in a fair and equitable way for todays and future generations? Can we balance the interests of human society and the environment using biotechnology? Can biotechnology contribute to sustainable agricultural systems? How should we frame the biotechnology issue?