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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."



Will Modern Genetics Turn Us Into Gene “Genies”?[citing CGS' Marcy Darnovsky]by Marcy Darnovsky, Dan Sarewitz, Samuel Weiss Evans, Arvis Sulovari, Eric A. WidraZócalo Public SquareMay 24th, 2016Contributors discuss their stances on the dangers and potential benefits of gene manipulation.
Bayer Offers to Buy Monsanto for $62 Billionby Michael J. de la Merced & Chad BrayThe New York TimesMay 23rd, 2016The merger would increase Bayer's scale of operations, whose politics and practices are similar to those of Monsanto.
In Search For Cures, Scientists Create Embryos That Are Both Animal And Humanby Rob SteinNPRMay 18th, 2016Gene-editing science raises bioethical concerns.
Synthetic Biology’s Second Worldby Andy BalmerPLOS Synbio CommunityMay 16th, 2016In the wake of a closed-door meeting of scientists to discuss the creation of a synthetic human genome, Balmer examines the formation of a second, secret world for synthetic biology in which decisions are made away from public scrutiny and governance.
Controversial Italian fertility doctor accused of stealing patient's eggby Stephanie KirchgaessnerThe Guardian [UK]May 15th, 2016A patient has accused an Italian fertility doctor of forcibly operating on her and harvesting her eggs.
Scientists Hold Secret Meeting to Consider Creating a Synthetic Human Genomeby Andrew PollackThe New York TimesMay 13th, 2016An invitation to the Harvard meeting said the primary goal “would be to synthesize a complete human genome in a cell line within a period of ten years.”
Three Cambridge startups are on a mission to fix broken genesby Robert WeismanThe Boston GlobeMay 11th, 2016Editas, Intellia & CRISPR Tx aim to cure diseases from cancer to blood disorders, but these would-be gene editors also must navigate a new round of ethical questions.
Should We Synthesize A Human Genome?by Drew Endy and Laurie ZolothDSpace@MITMay 10th, 2016In response to a proposal issued at a closed-door meeting at Harvard, Endy and Zoloth raise some ethical challenges to the synthesis of a human genome.
Scientists are trying to use CRISPR to fix everything. What’s wrong with that?by Emily McManusTED IdeasMay 5th, 2016A historian of eugenics asks: "Will individuals start making decisions to use new biotech to improve themselves and their children?"
I Want To Put A Baby In You: The Curious Case Of Louisianaby Ellen TrachmanAbove the LawMay 4th, 2016Instead of reasonable regulation, the pending Louisiana bill transparently limits the types of people who can enter surrogacy arrangements.
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