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The Ethics of Synthetic Biology: Outlining the Agenda


Deplazes, A; Ganguli-Mitra, A; Biller-Andorno, N (2009). The Ethics of Synthetic Biology: Outlining the Agenda. In: Schmidt, M; Kelle, A; Ganguli-Mitra, A; de Vriend, H. Synthetic Biology : the technoscience and its societal consequences. Netherlands: Springer, 65-79.

Abstract

The projects and aims of synthetic biology raise various ethical questions, challenging some of our basic moral concepts. This chapter addresses these issues in three steps. First, we present an overview of different types of ethical issues related to synthetic biology by assigning them to three main categories: method-related, application-related, and distribution-related issues. The first category concerns the procedure and aims of synthetic biology, the second deals with certain planned applications of synthetic biology and the third with questions of distribution and access to procedures and products of this technology. Next, we address a statement often raised in the discussion about ethics of synthetic biology, namely that the ethical issues of synthetic biology have been discussed in previous debates and therefore do not need to be addressed again. We argue that past debates do not render the discussion of ethical issues superfluous because synthetic biology sets these issues in a new context and because the discussion of such issues fulfills in itself an important function, namely by stimulating thought about our relationship to technology and nature. Furthermore, given that synthetic biology’s aims go beyond those of previous technologies, we suggest that it does in fact raise novel ethical issues. Finally, we present opinions of European synthetic biologists on ethical issues in their field. At such an early stage of technological development, synthetic biologists play an important role in the assessment of their discipline, and are best placed to estimate the scientific potential of the field. In an attempt to capture the intuitions of the European synthetic biology community, we have carried out interviews, the results of which we briefly summarize in this last section. By presenting an overview of the various ethical issues and their actual and perceived importance, this chapter aims at providing a first outline for the agenda for an ethics of synthetic biology.

The projects and aims of synthetic biology raise various ethical questions, challenging some of our basic moral concepts. This chapter addresses these issues in three steps. First, we present an overview of different types of ethical issues related to synthetic biology by assigning them to three main categories: method-related, application-related, and distribution-related issues. The first category concerns the procedure and aims of synthetic biology, the second deals with certain planned applications of synthetic biology and the third with questions of distribution and access to procedures and products of this technology. Next, we address a statement often raised in the discussion about ethics of synthetic biology, namely that the ethical issues of synthetic biology have been discussed in previous debates and therefore do not need to be addressed again. We argue that past debates do not render the discussion of ethical issues superfluous because synthetic biology sets these issues in a new context and because the discussion of such issues fulfills in itself an important function, namely by stimulating thought about our relationship to technology and nature. Furthermore, given that synthetic biology’s aims go beyond those of previous technologies, we suggest that it does in fact raise novel ethical issues. Finally, we present opinions of European synthetic biologists on ethical issues in their field. At such an early stage of technological development, synthetic biologists play an important role in the assessment of their discipline, and are best placed to estimate the scientific potential of the field. In an attempt to capture the intuitions of the European synthetic biology community, we have carried out interviews, the results of which we briefly summarize in this last section. By presenting an overview of the various ethical issues and their actual and perceived importance, this chapter aims at providing a first outline for the agenda for an ethics of synthetic biology.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Book Section, not refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine
08 University Research Priority Programs > Ethics
Dewey Decimal Classification:170 Ethics
610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:September 2009
Deposited On:02 Dec 2009 11:34
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 13:36
Publisher:Springer
ISBN:978-90-481-2677-4
Additional Information:The original publication is available at www.springerlink.com
Publisher DOI:10.1007/978-90-481-2678-1_5
Related URLs:http://www.springerlink.com/content/w96l83/ (Publisher)
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-24987

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