Ethics, Policy, and Synthetic Biology

By Jef Akst, writing for The Scientist: Q&A: Ethics chair on synthetic biology

The Scientist spoke with chair Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, about the commission’s conclusions that, despite the potential risks of creating synthetic organisms, the research should be allowed to continue.

The interview provides a good primer on the ethical issues. I’ll just point out one interesting bit. Near the start, Gutmann says:

Given that it’s a very new field, there is an opportunity to ensure that as it develops, its benefits for the public are maximized and its risk, correspondingly, minimized.

Without the benefits, no risks are worth taking. So we have to begin with the benefits…. [emphasis added]

That sounds reasonable enough, except that — depending on how narrowly you read the word “benefits” — it seems to cut off the possibility of the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.


About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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