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About Bioethics & Human Biotechnology


Bioethics established itself in the late 1960s as a field concerned with the ethical and philosophical implications of certain biological and medical procedures, technologies, and treatments. Early issues included end-of-life decision-making, organ donation, and human experimentation. Human biotechnology became a concern when the first bioethics institutes were established in the early 1970s. This attention skyrocketed in 1990 when the U.S. Human Genome Project earmarked 3% to 5% of its $3 billion federal budget to the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) research program, making its activities the world's largest bioethics program.

Bioethics initially represented diverse ethical philosophies. But by the mid-1980s, most professional bioethicists were grounded in individualist and utilitarian frameworks. Bioethicists appropriately continued to consider informed consent, patient safety and similar topics, but their attention to the broad social and political meanings of human biotechnologies had faded.

This shift has been unfortunate for the public's understanding. Most bioethicists present themselves as disinterested analysts who can be trusted to represent a full range of constituencies: researchers, biotech corporations, patients, religious groups, marginalized communities, and other affected parties. But in fact, many promote their own world views, which often emphasize libertarian values over commitments to the public interest.

The role of bioethics has been further compromised by its increasing financial and professional ties to the biotech industry. Many university bioethics centers receive funding from biotech corporations, and many bioethicists serve as paid or unpaid members of corporate "ethical advisory boards."



The Collapse of a Dangerous Analogy: Or, why mitochondria are much more than batteries by Jessica CussinsBiopolitical TimesSeptember 29th, 2014Amid a flood of new evidence that mitochondria impact an individual’s traits, the editors at New Scientist have made a “U-turn” on “three-parent babies.” Their new conclusion: “It’s more messy than we thought.”
US Doctors Update Gamete Donation Guidelinesby Michael CookBioEdgeSeptember 28th, 2014The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has updated its guidelines for gamete donation in the light of the growing recognition that offspring may have a right to know their genetic parents.
California Bans Coerced Sterilization of Female Inmatesby Corey G. JohnsonCenter for Investigative ReportingSeptember 26th, 2014Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill that protects prisoners in county jails, state prisons and other detention centers, after many abuses were uncovered.
An End to Sterilization Abuses in California Prisonsby Jessica CussinsBiopolitical TimesSeptember 26th, 2014The signing of SB 1135 into California law by Gov. Jerry Brown is an important victory in the fight for the remembrance of our state's eugenic history and its ongoing implications.
Kaiser Permanente's Genetic Database Is Boon to Medical Researchby Emily AnthesBloomberg BusinessweekSeptember 25th, 2014The health network has accumulated genetic data on more than 210,000 members.
The Stupidity of the 'Smart Gene'by Jessica CussinsHuffington PostSeptember 25th, 2014Now that “one of the largest, most rigorous genetic studies of human cognition” has effectively turned up "nothing," can we finally put the notion of “smart genes” behind us?
Richard Dawkins Gets it all Wrong, Yet Again by George EstreichSalonSeptember 25th, 2014As a social media event, the Dawkins kerfuffle was fleeting, but as a conversation, it offers a glimpse of a larger question: How do “we” — that is, the non-disabled — think about people with intellectual disabilities?
White House Issues New Regulations for Dangerous Biological Researchby Donald G. McNeilThe New York TimesSeptember 24th, 2014The Obama administration issued new guidelines intended to strengthen the oversight of federally funded biology research that could inadvertently produce bioweapons.
Genetic Testing for All Women? Not a Solution to the Breast Cancer Epidemicby  Karuna JaggarThe Huffington PostSeptember 24th, 2014The recommendation that all women over age 30 be screened for BRCA mutations fails to recognize the significant limitations and harms of mass genetic testing in the current health care environment.
If Synthetic Biology Lets us Play God, we Need RulesZócalo Public SquareSeptember 23rd, 2014Soon we could be able to program DNA with the same ease we program computers. What new responsibilities will be imposed on us?
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