Is biotechnology ethical or not?

Biotechnological health is going through what all other emerging scientific disciplines are experiencing: the challenge of defining its ethical limits. Research, costs and privacy issues raise concerns that third party payers, employers, suppliers and policy makers will face in the coming years. As the first decade of the 21st century reaches its midpoint, Biotechnology Healthcare has identified five topics that dominate ethical discussions about biotechnological medicine. 1 These topics will continue to generate controversy in the near future, forcing third party payers, purchasers from employers and unions, and healthcare providers to address the political implications of some or all of them for years to come.

In an article published in 2002 in Epidemiology Review, Jeremy Sugarman, MD, MPH, professor of bioethics and medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, wrote: “It is critical to ensure that research is conducted in a responsible manner throughout the study cycle, from the way participants are selected to the way data is entered, analyzed and reported. Attention must be paid to every aspect of research conduct for the success of the scientific enterprise and to protect study participants and others from unnecessary harm. Arthur L. Caplan, PhD,2 who heads the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, highlighted in a recent interview with Biotechnology Healthcare that researchers must ensure that clinical trials are not distorted by inconsistent arrangements.

In addition, he says, volunteers should not be recruited in a way that suggests that they are being paid bribes, as opposed to reimbursing legitimate expenses. Protecting patient privacy is a growing concern, thanks to technology that allows the human genome to be decoded. However, as scientists become experts at deciphering a person's genetic makeup, compromising information about a person's future health is increasingly likely to become available. For example, you may know that a 5-year-old child will develop serious heart disease later in life, but does a potential employer have a right to know? How will this knowledge affect a person's ability to get a job, insurance, or a mortgage? Should insurers and others have such information? This is a thorny problem destined to become even thornier.

However, even this statement leaves open the question of the extent to which the needs of society can eclipse a person's rights. This is especially true in the wake of the Patriot Act. By reflecting the public's fears of terrorism, federal law is triggering an intense debate about people's right to privacy and the security concerns of society in general. With legal challenges pending, it's easy to see how even the ethical statement for managed care can cause difficulties.

This should come as no surprise. Stem cell research is anathema to the religious right and made its way in the recent presidential elections. National Library of Medicine 8600 Rockville Pike Bethesda, MD 20894.Biotechnology is a constantly evolving field of science. While it has many benefits, such as reducing our environmental footprint and helping to treat diseases and ailments, it is not without drawbacks.

The four main concerns revolve around ethical, security, bioterrorism and environmental issues.

Tammi Ludlum
Tammi Ludlum

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