Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Global governance needed for species-changing and species-endangering procedures

A summary of Governing Biotechnology
by George Annas

Professor George Annas of Boston University believes that the test for the 21st century is to create a way to govern biotechnology that will lead to the improvement of human life as opposed to destroying it. He explains that biotechnology has had a bumpy back-and-forth road, with issues such as bioterrorism pushing it back and practices like somatic cell nuclear transfer pushing it forward. Annas feels that the first necessary reform is to make clear to lay persons the difference between reproductive cloning and somatic cell nuclear transfer. Somatic cell nuclear transfer is not harmful and therefore cannot be categorized as destructive to humans; rather, it improves the lives of humans. Annas also argues that we need to create a global rules system that includes various governments, industries, NGOs and the public.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Strange that this is the point you chose to emphasize. Out of context (and arguably even in context), it does not capture the gist of Annas's argument. Here's how he closes his piece:

Somatic cell nuclear transfer experiments, limited to the creation of stem cells, do not carry these species-endangering risks. Nonetheless, they are closely enough related to germline genetic engineering experiments to provide an important, perhaps unique, opportunity for the global community to set the basic ethical and human-rights standards for potentially species-altering research. Both the UN and the private sector have thus far proven ethically impotent.

We need to exercise our moral imaginations to create a structure that can act as a virtual global conscience for the scientific community pursuing species-altering and potentially species-endangering biotechnologies. An ethical oversight structure must be global and should include representatives from governments, industry, non-governmental organizations and the public.

The group should be charged with articulating substantive global research rules (using existing international human-rights documents, like the Nuremberg Code, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine as a basis), reviewing and approving (or declining) all proposals to do species-altering or potentially species-endangering procedures, and monitoring these experiments as they are performed.

That we can imagine the horrors of an avian flu pandemic or a bioterrorist attack, but cannot imagine ways to develop and exercise a “species conscience”, is a potentially lethal attribute of today’s humans.