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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."



Banks of Blood and Spermby Rebecca J. RosenThe AtlanticJuly 31st, 2014Kara W. Swanson, author of the new book Banking on the Body, on how the idea of a "bank" shapes the way people think about storing and distributing body fluids.
Australian Couple Leaves Down Syndrome Baby with Thai Surrogate by Lindsay MurdochThe Sydney Morning HeraldJuly 31st, 2014Gammy, a six-month-old baby abandoned by his Australian parents, could die because his Thai surrogate mother cannot pay for medical treatment for his congenital heart condition.
The Best-Selling, Billion-Dollar Pills Tested on Homeless Peopleby Carl ElliottMediumJuly 28th, 2014How the destitute and the mentally ill are being used as human lab rats.
No ‘Rainbow Families’: Ethnic Donor Stipulation at Fertility Centre ‘Floors’ Local Womanby Jessica BarrettCalgary Herald [Canada]July 25th, 2014A Calgary woman was shocked to learn of a policy at the city’s only fertility treatment centre that restricts patients from using sperm, eggs or embryos from donors who do not match their ethnic background.
California Set to Prohibit Sterilization of Prisonersby Jonathan ChernoguzBiopolitical TimesJuly 24th, 2014With the unanimous approval of Senate Bill 1135 in Sacramento last month, the victims of recent unauthorized sterilizations in California prisons, and their advocates, seem likely to win this important victory.
Eugenic Policies of the Past Teach Sobering Lessonsby Calum MacKellarThe ScotsmanJuly 24th, 2014The support of Scottish thinkers for eugenics is revealed in a new book entitled The Ethics of the New Eugenics.
Making Sense of the BRAINby Jessica CussinsBiopolitical TimesJuly 24th, 2014As criticisms of the brain projects on both sides of the Atlantic ramp up, what lessons can be learned from the successes and failures of the Human Genome Project?
Failures and Risks in Biosafety Regulationby Pete ShanksBiopolitical TimesJuly 24th, 2014Accidents at CDC and elsewhere point up the difficulties in regulating potentially dangerous releases of genetically modified organisms, which scientists are, quite responsibly, discussing.
Biopolitics [PDF]by Marcy Darnovsky and Emily Smith BeitiksEncyclopedia of Bioethics, 4th editionAn entry from the newly released Encyclopedia of Bioethics (Bruce Jennings, editor) looks at the emerging use of the term biopolitics to address broad social and political dynamics.
Three Person IVF Plans 'Progress' in UKby Smitha MundasadBBCJuly 22nd, 2014"Looking back 15 years from now in the midst of a designer baby marketplace, people will see this as the moment when the crucial ethical line was crossed."
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