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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."

UK Womb Transplants: 5 Ethical Issuesby Rachael RettnerLive ScienceOctober 5th, 2015A new UK clinical trial would expose both patient and developing fetus to autoimmune suppressants, use uteruses from deceased donors, and require that clinical patients have a "long-term partner", even though alternatives to this radical new technology exist.
List of Speakers for NAS Meeting on Human Gene Editingby Paul KnoepflerKnoepfler Lab Stem Cell BlogOctober 1st, 2015A preliminary list of speakers for the National Academies' international summit on human gene editing has emerged, with troubling lack of diversity.
What 2,500 Sequenced Genomes Say about Humanity’s Futureby Lizzie WadeWiredSeptember 30th, 2015In light of geneticists’ attempts to find roots of racial health disparities, genomics has gone from being a “race-free” science to being a “race-positive” one.
Disgraced Scientist Clones Dogs, and Critics Question His Intentby Rob SteinNPRSeptember 30th, 2015South Korean company Sooam Biotech – started by “scientific pariah” Hwang Woo Suk – has cloned over 600 dogs for $100,000, but the process works only one-third of the time and is risky.
Scientists Find Gene Editing with CRISPR Hard to Resist[quotes Marcy Darnovsky and Pete Shanks]by Cameron ScottHealthlineSeptember 29th, 2015CRISPR, a new technique for editing DNA, is so cheap and easy to use, we may be genetically engineering human embryos before we have time to decide if we should.
Why Some Parents Choose to Have a Deaf Babyby Rich WordsworthMotherboardSeptember 29th, 2015Genetic deafness is one of many conditions that can be screened for using PGD. That’s led to a surprising phenomenon: deaf parents using PGD not to avoid deafness, but to deliberately select for it.
Prop 47 Could Purge DNA Databaseby Kristina DavisThe San Diego Union-TribuneSeptember 27th, 2015California’s Proposition 47 reduced certain low-level, nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors, but the fate of the consequent DNA collection is unclear.
Why the Majority of Sperm Donations in Canada Are from the U.S.[Canada]by Jim BrownCanadian Broadcasting CorporationSeptember 27th, 2015Only 5-10% of donated sperm in Canada is from domestic donors; the majority comes from US donors who – unlike their counterparts north of the border – are paid for their services.
Who has your DNA—or wants itby Jocelyn KaiserScienceSeptember 25th, 2015More and more groups are amassing computer server–busting amounts of human DNA. Science's informal survey found at least 17 biobanks that hold—or plan to hold—genomic data on 75,000 or more people.
Considering CRISPR: Putting a thumb on the scale?by Pete ShanksBiopolitical TimesSeptember 24th, 2015The National Academies have announced the date for their International Summit on Human Gene Editing. Are some of the organizers trying to predetermine the outcome?
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