Ethical debates sparked by recent biomedical breakthroughs

Many of the problems presented by science during the course of its normal development raise bioethical concerns that must be considered. In this respect, the John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana (USA) has been publishing annual lists since 2013 in which they analyse scientific advances that, in their opinion, generate, or could generate, major ethical debates.

According to the authors, the technique that will raise most ethical concerns in 2016 will be CRISPR/Cas9, a system that greatly facilitates genome editing, and to which we have referred extensively in our Newsletter (click HERE).

Diagnosing disease in newborns by whole-genome sequencing will be another of the most troublesome ethical issues. Indeed, ethical issues that arise in newborns related with the right to life (and not only the quality of life) are known, especially when the infants are premature (around 25 weeks) or very premature (22 weeks), an issue to which we have also referred in past editions (click HERE); however, it is also true that these techniques will enable medical problems to be addressed, not only in newborns, but in unborn children, as they can be applied in the womb. As in the above case, there is an ambivalence between the positive and negative aspects of the use of these new technologies.

Another topic referred to in the aforementioned list is head transplants, which some think could be performed in 2017. In our opinion, this is a minor issue from an ethical point of view, because we believe that for now, current technology is still far from the point of enabling this procedure to be performed.

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.