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Other articles: January 2010

19 January 2010

Other papers this month:

The Wisdom of Caution: Genetic Enhancement and Future Children

Authors: Borenstein, J


Abstract: Many scholars predict that the technology to modify unborn children genetically is on the horizon. According to supporters of genetic enhancement, allowing parents to select a child’s traits will enable him/her to experience a better life. Following their logic, the technology will not only increase our knowledge base and generate cures for genetic illness, but it may enable us to increase the intelligence, strength, and longevity of future generations as well. Yet it must be examined whether supporters of genetic enhancement, especially libertarians, adequately appreciate the ethical hazards emerging from the technology, including whether its use might violate the harm principle.

The “how” and “whys” of research: life scientists’ views of accountability

Authors: Ladd, JM; Lappe, MD; McCormick, JB; Boyce, AM; Cho, MK

JOURNAL OF MEDICAL ETHICS 35 (12): 762-767 DEC 2009

Abstract: Objectives: To investigate life scientists’ views of accountability and the ethical and societal implications of research.

Design: Qualitative focus group and one-on-one interviews.

Participants: 45 Stanford University life scientists, including graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty.

Results: Two main themes were identified in participants’ discussions of accountability: (1) the “how” of science and (2) the “why” of science. The “how” encompassed the internal conduct of research including attributes such as honesty and independence. The “why,” or the motivation for conducting research, was two-tiered: first was the desire to positively impact the research community and science itself, and second was an interest in positively impacting the external community, broadly referred to as society. Participants noted that these motivations were influenced by the current systems of publications, grants and funding, thereby supporting a complex notion of boundary-setting between science and non-science. In addition, while all participants recognised the “how” of science and the two tiers of “why,” scientists expressed the need to prioritise these domains of accountability. This prioritisation was related to a researcher’s position in the academic career trajectory and to the researcher’s subsequent “perceived proximity” to scientific or societal concerns. Our findings therefore suggest the need for institutional change to inculcate early-stage researchers with a broader awareness of the implications of their research. The peer review processes for funding and publication could be effective avenues for encouraging scientists to broaden their views of accountability to society.

Biotechnology and naturalness in the genomics era: plotting a timetable for the biotechnology debate

Authors: Zwart, H


Abstract: Debates on the role of biotechnology in food production are beset with notorious ambiguities. This already applies to the term “biotechnology” itself. Does it refer to the use and modification of living organisms in general, or rather to a specific set of technologies developed quite recently in the form of bioengineering and genetic modification? No less ambiguous are discussions concerning the question to what extent biotechnology must be regarded as “unnatural.” In this article it will be argued that, in order to disentangle some of the ambiguities involved, we have to broaden the temporal horizon of the debate. Ideas about biotechniques and naturalness have evolved in various socio-historical contexts and their historical origins will determine to a considerable extent their actual meaning and use in contemporary deliberations. For this purpose, a comprehensive timetable is developed, beginning with the Neolithic revolution similar to 10,000 years ago (resulting in the emergence of agriculture and the Common Human Pattern) up to the biotech revolution as it has evolved from the 1970s onwards-sometimes referred to as a second “Genesis.” The concept of nature that emerged in the context of the “Common Human Pattern” differs considerably from traditional philosophical concepts of nature (such as coined by Aristotle), as well as from the scientific view of nature conveyed by the contemporary life sciences. A clarification of these different historical backdrops will allow us to understand and elucidate the conceptual ambiguities that are at work in contemporary debates on biotechnology and the place of human beings in nature.

Culture and genetics screening in Africa

Authors: Jegede, AS


Abstract: Africa is a continent in transition amidst a revival of cultural practices. Over previous years the continent was robbed of the benefits of medical advances by unfounded cultural practices surrounding its cultural heritage. In a fast moving field like genetic screening, discussions of social and policy aspects frequently need to take place at an early stage to avoid the dilemma encountered by Western medicine. This paper, examines the potential challenges to genetic screening in Africa. It discusses how cultural practices may affect genetic screening. It views genomics science as a culture which is trying to diffuse into another one. It argues that understanding the existing culture will help the diffusion process. The paper emphasizes the importance of genetic screening for Africa, by assessing the current level of burden of diseases in the continent and shows its role in reducing disease prevalence. The paper identifies and discusses the cultural challenges that are likely to confront genetic screening on the continent, such as the worldview, rituals and taboos, polygyny, culture of son preference and so on. It also discusses cultural practices that may promote the science such as inheritance practices, spouse selection practices and naming patterns. Factors driving the cultural challenges are identified and discussed, such as socialization process, patriarchy, gender, belief system and so on. Finally, the paper discusses the way forward and highlights the ethical considerations of doing genetic screening on the continent. However, the paper also recognizes that African culture is not monolithic and therefore makes a case for exceptions.

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