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."
Innovation and Equity in an Age of Gene Editingby Charis Thompson, Ruha Benjamin, Jessica Cussins and Marcy Darnovsky, The GuardianMay 19th, 2015As experts gather in Atlanta to discuss the rights and wrongs of editing human genomes, four of the attendees explain why it is vital to put social justice at the heart of the debate.
The Genome Engineering Revolutionby Ryan Clarke and James Hyun, Tech CrunchMay 13th, 2015The CRISPR-cas9 system makes gene editing in many organisms and cells — like our own egg, sperm or embryo — more efficient, accessible and simple than ever before.
Science is Often Flawed. It's Time we Embraced That.by Julia Belluz and Steven Hoffman, VoxMay 13th, 2015That science can fail, however, shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. It's a human construct, after all. And if we simply accepted that science often works imperfectly, we'd be better off.