Bioethics Blogs

What do you mean ‘it’s unnatural’?

Nature is important to us. Most people agree we need to take care of the natural environment and it is only the hardest of hearts that finds themselves unmoved by the beauty and complexity of the natural the world.

Caring about naturalness might be different though. Everyone enjoys a stroll in the outdoors but how much should we care about how natural our food is, say? What difference does it make if something we eat has been modified genetically or has come from a cloned animal? Is it better to conceive and give birth using only natural means? And how much should we care about looking natural? Or ageing naturally?

These are some of the questions we’re looking at as part of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics project on naturalness. Our work is exploring the ways that public and political bioethics debates – like those on GM, cloning, IVF, cosmetic procedures and others – are influenced by ideas about naturalness and how this correlates with thinking on the topic from within philosophy, the social sciences and biosciences.

Understanding why people care about naturalness is important because some people really care about it. Thinking that a new scientific or medical technology, like the use of mitochondrial replacement or growing genetically modified rice for instance, is unnatural can make people wary or suspicious, and may even make them think that others shouldn’t be allowed to use it. People might feel that way even if these technologies could cure debilitating diseases or enable people to grow food in developing world.

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.