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Misunderstanding Ethics and the purpose of this talk

It is interesting to read the comments this talk has elicited. People project onto the talk their own fears or beliefs. The talk has one purpose, and I suppose it has achieved that: it is to get people debating and thinking about the ethics of biotechnology. That is why, nowhere in the talk, do I give my own opinion as to correct answers; I want the viewer to ask themselves the questions.
On the other hand, some of the claims in the comments are pretty surprising. I am involved in quite a few biotechnological projects, so the idea that I am anti-technology or a Luddite borders on the absurd. When Craig Venter first decided to create his minimal genome, he hired my Center at Penn to examine the ethical issues involved, and the two articles were published side by side in Science. So is Craig Venter a Luddite because he was concerned about the ethics of biotechnology?
Science and ethics must go hand in hand. When they don't, science has done unconscionable things. All good scientists understand this, which is why top scientists generally support bioethics, and believe in the importance of incorporating ethical reflection into science and science education. The purpose of bioethics is not to stop science, but to make sure that it is both performed ethically (the history of human subject experimentation is scandalous) and that society, and scientists, carefully consider the best use of scientific funds and the direction of scientific inquiry.
As far as what is done in one's private lab, that too must be constrained by ethical standards. Just because a lab is private does not mean we should allow it to manufacture a virulent virus, do cruel experiments on animals, or release an engineered organism into the ecosystem. Science is part of society, and has no special purchase from which to excuse itself from the ethical reflection or standards that the rest of society is subject to.


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  • K JAI

    • +1
    Mar 31 2011: I don't think it's 'time to question it, I believe it's time to campaign to stop it
    It is in my opinion 'completely unethical "
    • Apr 1 2011: Why? Suppose we learn how to render humans immune to cancer, the same way naked mole rats are. Would you be able to look your children in the eye, knowing that you'd condemned them to suffer a horrific disease just because you thought it a bit icky to alter their genes? How about people who are starving and suffering malnutrition due to, say, drought? Could you look them in the eye and tell them that you'd stopped development of a genetically modified drought-resistant crop that could have fed them and their families, because you didn't like the idea of transgenic plants? This isn't about having a remote-control beetle to play with, this is about transforming people's lives for the better. So consult your conscience and rethink your ideas.
      • Apr 18 2011: While I totally agree with your original intentions, stating that the future of science may revolutionize and alter the life’s of countless humans beings in ways we cannot even fathom. I am not against the progress of science for the sake of ones health. However I also know that opening the doors to such new research does cause a few scientists to go crazy, creating these “remote- control beetles simply for the sake of “science” and creating something new. Sadly not everyone in the world is always looking out for what is the best for humanity, and while I agree with science progressing to help humanity, I also know that you cannot completely disregard or disconnect the science creating the remote-control beetle because there are those people out there who are willing to do whatever it takes to create something that is profitable. I am by no means condemning science or the progress of science or even the use of stem cells, I am just saying, something so new is scary and putting so much trust in the hands of the scientists is hard to do. However I hope that we can move on to the point where science and the mindset of all the scientists is for the general well being of all.

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