Tag: genetic materials

Bioethics Blogs

Cross-Border Reproduction: An “Ethic of Care” and an Unregulated Market

Brocher Foundation

Concerns about cross-border fertility arrangements – especially human rights violations of women serving as surrogate mothers or providing eggs – brought 23 participants (including myself) from 14 countries  to a three-and-a-half-day workshop at the Brocher Foundation near Geneva, Switzerland in January.

The event was called Inter-country medically assisted reproduction: Conceiving a human rights ethic of care, and its aim was “to explore and conceptualize ethical principles for a human rights-based regime of governance that might offer an alternative to the unregulated market.” It was co-organized by Carmel Shalev of the Department for Reproduction and Society at Haifa University’s Center for Health, Law and Ethics, and Gabriele Werner-Felmayer of the Division of Biological Chemistry at Medical University Innsbruck and its bioethics network Ethucation.

In addition to intensive discussion, we were treated to a screening of an award-winning documentary about surrogacy in India, Ma Na Sapna (A Mother’s Dream), which to my knowledge has not been widely screened in North America. Austrian director Valerie Gudenus was present, and answered a flurry of questions about the film and the several months she spent with a camera crew at the Akanksha Infertility Clinic.

Workshop sessions were devoted to exploring the meaning of an “ethic of care,” and how it would apply to surrogacy, third-party gamete providers, and embryo selection. Not surprisingly, a range of views surfaced among the gathered public interest and women’s health advocates, bioethicists, biologists, physicians, anthropologists, legal scholars, and others. But there was enough shared perspective for a series of recommendations to emerge, and a report explaining the background and reasoning for them is planned.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Using cloning for human enhancement?

We have occasionally written about human cloning here on Futurisms — for example, five years ago we had a backandforth with Kyle Munkittrick about cloning — and we return to the subject today, with an excerpt from the latest issue of The New Atlantis. The entirety of that new issue is dedicated to a report called The Threat of Human Cloning: Ethics, Recent Developments, and the Case for Action. The report, written by a distinguished body of academics and policy experts, makes the case against all forms of human cloning — both for the purpose of creating children and for the purpose of biomedical research.

Below is one excerpt from the report, a section exploring the possibility of using cloning to create “enhanced” offspring. (I have removed the citations from this excerpt, but you can find them and read this section in context here.)

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Cloning for “human enhancement.” Much of the enthusiasm for and anxiety about human cloning over the years has been concerned with the use of cloning as a genetic enhancement technology. Scientists, and especially science-fiction writers, have imagined ways of using cloning to replicate “persons of attested ability” as a way to “raise the possibility of human achievement dramatically,” in the words of J.B.S. Haldane. As molecular biologist Robert L. Sinsheimer argued in 1972, “cloning would in principle permit the preservation and perpetuation of the finest genotypes that arise in our species.” Candidates for this distinction often include Mozart and Einstein, though the legacy of eugenics in the twentieth century has left many authors with an awareness that those who would use these technologies may be more interested in replicating men like Hitler.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Synthetic Biology Is What, Exactly?

Synthetic biology is about, well, living things that are manufactured. Or something.

The European Commission is the latest body to struggle with defining the term synthetic biology, and has produced a 65-page report. In the end, the Scientific Committees punted. (Their full names are here, which links to the Opinion, pdf, as well as comments on an earlier draft, pdf.) This is what they came up with:

SynBio is the application of science, technology and engineering to facilitate and accelerate the design, manufacture and/or modification of genetic materials in living organisms.

The Committees’ rationale makes sense, up to a point: They came up with an “operational definition” that “has the advantage that it does not exclude the relevant and large body of risk assessment and safety guidelines developed over the past 40 years for GM work.” But their approach fails to include what the report acknowledges are key elements of most current definitions: “modularisation and engineering concepts.” In fact, their formulation is pretty close to the more succinct title the ETC Group came up with in January 2007:

Extreme genetic engineering

Which in turn is really not so far from what synthetic biologist Drew Endy said (video), also in 2007:

“Synthetic biology is an approach to engineering biology. … Synthetic biology isn’t making a specific thing, it’s how you make something.”

In the same five-minute video, however, Endy distinguishes the then-new field from genetic engineering by saying that it adds to the older technologies (recombinant DNA, PCR, automated sequencing) three new elements: automated construction, standards and abstraction.

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.