Bioethics Blogs

Global bioethics: the next twenty years

This blog post is an extract from a chapter by Hugh Whittall in Global Bioethics: What for? a 20th anniversary publication of UNESCO’s Bioethics Programme.

Developments in biotechnology, nanotechnology, neurotechnology and information technology (to name but a few ‘-ologies’) are difficult enough in themselves in terms of understanding and managing their potential future applications. But when they combine and converge in novel ways, they present even greater challenges. Synthetic biology that might generate novel, functional organisms; the application of powerful new informatics systems to expanding databases of whole genome sequences; scanning and imaging technologies; robotics and the development of computer-aided biological systems where biology and technology begin to merge.

These are all with us and developing rapidly. And the point about these developments is not only that they are complex, but that they breach our existing categories – categories of what sits within the life sciences as opposed to the physical sciences, and categories of what is or is not health-related. They also have, from the outset, a global dimension as their contributors and applications are not limited in any way by local, national or regional boundaries.

This complex vision of the progression of science in the coming years can be challenging and daunting. But we must also recognize how essential it will be in helping to address some of the most problematic issues of our time – persistent health inequalities; the adverse effects of climate change; and the increasing prevalence of disorders such as dementia, obesity and poor mental health.

This is an exciting period, then, and one that will bring some immense opportunities as well as challenges.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.