Changing Nature's Course: The Ethical Challenge of Biotechnology

By Gerhold K. Becker; James P. Buchanan | Go to book overview

10
Moral Risk Assessment in Biotechnology

Hans-Martin Sass


The Jacob Story

About 2500 years ago during the century of Lao Tzu, Kung Fu Tze and Buddha Jacob, the father of the House of Israel, served as a herdsman to Laban, his father in law, for many years without pay. Laban was an avaricious and mean person and did not pay Jacob during his years of service. One day Jacob made what Laban thought was a modest request: to get title to all crossbreeds of Laban's herds. After the new contract was in place, Jacob started to increase the number of cross breeds by canny and prudent means of encouraging crossbreeding among previously strictly separated flocks. Incentives included watering and even feeding previously separated herds together to provide for extra breeding time across previously established and protected breeding lines. When the time came to count the flocks, Laban got very angry and Jacob got very rich as his flocks increased exceedingly, or in the word's of the German version of Dr Martin Luther 'daher ward der Mann über alle Massen reich' (1. Mose, 31:13).

We have two sets of problems in this story, both of which are related to risks in biotechnology. One set represents four purely technical risk parameters in indirect biotechnological manipulation by breeding methods and in direct biotechnological manipulation by moleculargenetic methods: stability of genetic expression and survival, multiplication, and migration in environment. 1 These four risk parameters have been widely described in contemporary DNA hazard management and are mandatorily used in corporate and government risk assessment schemes in agriculture, drug research and gene therapy. 2 Jacob's story plays well before the background of a history of well established means

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