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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."



Gene-therapy trials must proceed with cautionby EditorialNatureJune 28th, 2016Past mistakes, which have ranged from harmful to deadly, must be prevented from recurring.
Federal Oversight Group Has Complaints But Says Yes To CRISPR Trialby Alex LashXconomyJune 21st, 2016Despite worries about conflict of interest, an NIH committee voted to let researchers move ahead with a clinical trial that could be the first use of CRISPR-Cas9 in a human treatment.
Do women who donate their eggs run a health risk?by Sandra G. BoodmanThe Washington PostJune 20th, 2016Health advocates say that donors are being falsely reassured that the process is safe, without being told that there is no definitive research.
Gene drive debate must include voices from Africa, elsewhereby Richard Nchabi KamwiSTATJune 15th, 2016The conversations have been missing the perspectives of representatives from malaria-affected countries, largely in South and Central America, Africa, and southern Asia.
Should We Sequence the DNA of Every Cancer Patient?by Antonio RegaladoMIT Technology ReviewJune 14th, 2016A startup plans to give free genetic tests to 100,000 cancer patients in order to steer them to drug companies.
"Safe" call? My thoughts on the latest mitochondrial replacement paper by Ted MorrowTed's BlogJune 14th, 2016The reaction from many has been upbeat, but my reading of the paper is different. Despite all the warnings about mitonuclear mismatching, it is apparently glossed over by scientists and science communicators alike."
Testing, testing: Prenatal genetic screeningby Joe GibesTrinity International University June 10th, 2016Confusion and uncertainty surround both the accuracy of prenatal genetic screening and people's understanding of what PGS is.
The National Academies’ Gene Drive study has ignored important and obvious issues by Jim ThomasThe Guardian June 9th, 2016Some important gaps in the study include an analysis of The report ducks questions about militarization, commercialization, and food security, but acknowledges there is "insufficient evidence to support the environmental release of gene drives."
Mitochondrial Replacement Hype Goes Nuclear Including by Wellcome Trustby Paul KnoepflerThe NicheJune 9th, 2016A new paper shows serious and difficult safety hurdles, but the UK media and some UK scientists are engaging in hype, claiming the exact opposite.
Interview: “Democratic deliberation” and bioethicsby Nelson Michael & Xavier SymonsBioEdgeJune 8th, 2016A member of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues discusses the state of US bioethics.
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