June 24, 2009

Ethical Issues in Synthetic Biology

June 24, 2009 12:30 – 1:30 PM

-Light lunch available at 12 PM
-5th Floor Conference Room
-Woodrow Wilson Center

WASHINGTON – The emerging field of synthetic biology will allow researchers to create biological systems that do not occur naturally as well as to re-engineer existing biological systems to perform novel and beneficial tasks. As the science and its applications develop, a comprehensive approach to addressing ethical and social issues of emerging technologies as a whole is called for if scarce intellectual resources are to be used optimally, according to a new report authored by Erik Parens, Josephine Johnston, and Jacob Moses of The Hastings Center. Synthetic biology promises significant advances in areas such as biofuels, specialty chemicals, agriculture, and medicine but also poses potential risks.

In Ethical Issues in Synthetic Biology: An Overview of the Debates, the authors examine how the ethical issues raised by a variety of emerging technologies are often similar and familiar. They find that these similarities are abundant enough to justify an effort to develop an ethical framework that cuts across emerging and converging technologies. Indeed, rather than stovepiping ethical questions into the hyphenated areas of bio-ethics, nano-ethics, neuro-ethics and so on, it is time to begin speaking about the ethics of emerging technologies as a whole.

On June 24, Erik Parens will discuss the report’s findings, exploring the differences between physical and non-physical harms and pro-actionary and pre-cautionary frameworks, in an effort to better define the ethical issues around synthetic biology. Gregory Kaebnick, also of The Hastings Center, will describe the Center’s new, multi-year project that will examine the ethical issues raised in the report in greater depth.