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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."



Three-parent DNA treatment for rare defect raises debatePBS NewshourFebruary 3rd, 2016A new technology adds healthy cellular structure from a third person, meaning that children are born with DNA from three people. William Brangham learns more from Jeffrey Kahn and Marcy Darnovsky.
Britian has jumped the gun on gene editing by Donna DickensonTelegraph [UK]February 2nd, 2016We do not know what the consequences will be for future generations – and it will be too late to reverse.
U.K. Scientists Given OK to Use ‘Gene Editing’ on Human Embryosby David MillsHealthlineFebruary 1st, 2016The scientists at the Francis Crick Institute are expected to begin the experiments in the next few months amid concerns over “designer babies.”
The United States Once Sterilized Tens of Thousands — Here’s How the Supreme Court Allowed Itby Trevor BurrusMediumJanuary 27th, 2016A lucid and accurate discussion of Buck v. Bell, what led up to it, and its consequences both personal and political.
The First Artificial Insemination Was an Ethical Nightmare by Elizabeth YukoThe AtlanticJanuary 8th, 2016The 19th-century procedure involved lies, a secrecy pledge, and sperm from a surprise donor.
Who is Smart Enough to Decide how to Improve the Human Species?by Joel AchenbachThe Washington PostJanuary 5th, 2016Genetic engineering and molecular biology benefit from the digital revolution. This convergence is arguably one of the biggest stories in the world right now.
King for a Day? On What’s Wrong With Changing the World for the Better by Roland NadlerLaw and Biosciences BlogJanuary 4th, 2016"It’s not so much about ethics (as we usually envision it) as about political philosophy. I’d exhort us to be quicker to ask: who died and made you king?"
Lab Pays $4M to Settle Doctor-Kickback Claimsby Bianca BrunoCourthouse News ServiceDecember 30th, 2015Federal investigators found Pathway violated the False Claims Act by offering physicians and medical groups reimbursements of up to $20 for each saliva kit they submitted for genetic testing.
'We Won't Make Frankensteins,' Cloning Giant Boyalife's CEO Saysby David Lom and Eric BaculinaoNBC NewsDecember 26th, 2015The head of a Chinese firm that is building the world's biggest animal cloning factory has vowed not to use the technology on people — for now, at least.
Shifting Surrogacy Laws Give Birth to Uncertainty by Brad BertrandNikkei Asian Review [Singapore]December 26th, 2015Since the government clampdowns in Thailand, India and Nepal, the focus in Asia has shifted to Malaysia and Cambodia, which lack comprehensive legal frameworks to regulate surrogacy.
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