Department of Philosophy, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Canada
Biotechnology presents a wide array of interesting, challenging, and to some, frightening ethical questions. What sorts of questions? Well, to begin with, biotech presents us with questions about the beginning of human life and personhood, the rights of research subjects, and how the costs and benefits of novel health-related technologies ought to be distributed. Though such issues find new form in the debates over biotech, many of them are in fact far from new, for they have been central questions in the field of bioethics for at least several decades. So, perhaps not surprisingly, to date the majority of the work on ethical issues in biotechnology has been done by scholars with expertise in bioethics (and to a lesser extent, by scholars versed in environmental ethics).
But I wish to argue that this near-exclusive focus on bioethical issues is a mistake. Some of the most challenging ethical questions related to advances in biotechnology are not, in fact, questions best dealt with exclusively within the framework of traditional bioethics – that is, they are not best dealt with by means of the theories and principles traditionally made use of in academic and clinical bioethics. And some of the most challenging ethical questions related to biotech are not solely – perhaps not even primarily – questions that will be dealt with most centrally by those individuals and institutions to whom bioethicists are accustomed to giving advice. What is most strikingly missing from most bioethical discussions of biotechnology is a concrete recognition of the fact that a great deal of biotechnology research takes place in a corporate context. This is not to say
Bartha Maria Knoppers (ed.), Populations and Genetics: Legal and Socio-Ethical Perspectives. © 2003 Koninklijke Brill NV. Printed in the Netherlands.