June 24, 2009 12:30 – 1:30 PM
The emerging field of synthetic biology will allow researchers to create biological systems that do not occur naturally as well as to re-engineer existing biological systems to perform novel and beneficial tasks. As the science and its applications develop, a comprehensive approach to addressing ethical and social issues of emerging technologies as a whole is called for if scarce intellectual resources are to be used optimally, according to a new report authored 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.
In Ethical Issues in Synthetic Biology: An Overview of the Debates, the authors examine how the ethical issues raised by a variety of emerging technologies are often similar and familiar. They find that these similarities are abundant enough to justify an effort to develop an ethical framework that cuts across emerging and converging technologies. Indeed, rather than stovepiping ethical questions into the hyphenated areas of bio-ethics, nano-ethics, neuro-ethics and so on, it is time to begin speaking about the ethics of emerging technologies as a whole.