The Future of European Bioethics

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Presentation given to the Globalising European Bioethics Education project meeting, Manchester 2010.

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The Future of European Bioethics

  1. 1. The future of (European) bioethics is uncertain By Professor Andy Miah 2010.02.08 | Globalizing European Bioethics Education
  2. 2. First , it is uncertain which agencies or individuals will shape bioethics in the future and because of this, the future of bioethics implies an entirely different political economy that will be empowered to shape the focal issues, compared to that which led is first forty years of development. Already, European bioethics - more than the USA, where disciplinary lines tend to be more rigid - has grown well beyond the disciplinary boundaries that shaped back in the late 1960s. The second dimension of uncertainty is over how science will develop . Already, greater specialization in science has meant that a catchall concept like bioethics is increasingly redundant, as further specific areas of inquiry emerge. Third , there is uncertainty over which technological applications will arise from science and medicine and this reflects a regulatory uncertainty. Thus, we are at a point where the therapeutic interventions of science are on the cusp of being used for non-medical purpose and it remains to be seen how societies will govern their commercialization. Finally , there is uncertainty over how , what maybe called, public bioethics , will shape the more professional conversations that take place. This dimension relates to the rise in the public engagement with science, which itself has a strong ethical dimension (Miah, 2005). Overview the five obstructions
  3. 3. But first... Bioethics must continue the work of overseeing regulation of practice in science, medicine and technology As such, the future of European bioethics will be first, to continue its core task of developing and maintaining codes of ethics to govern professional practice in science and medicine. In the context of a widening Europe , the challenge of attending to this is even greater. While this rather initial answer to the set question is perhaps the least innovative dimension of future bioethics, it is also one of the most challenging , since it will require greater governmental collaboration to address the rise of medical tourism , which will only increase as Europe becomes more connected. As such, this ongoing process of refining and adapting bioethical codes of practice and laws should not be compromised. Indeed, the consequences of compromising on high priority issues such as this was made evident in the reactions to the work of the former USA President’s Council on Bioethics, which was widely criticised for focusing on issues that did not attend to immediate ethical needs.
  4. 4. UNCERTAINTY I: Who will define bioethics? The first uncertainty facing the future of bioethics has to do with who will contribute to shaping its priorities and work. Arguably, bioethics has already become a very different entity from whence it came, though not due simply to technological change. Rather, today’s political landscape implies greater expectations of science and, perhaps more importantly, greater scrutiny over scientific practice. Consider the recent discussions about climate change data emerging from the University of East Anglia. Alternatively, in 2007, the advertisement campaign by the USA Senator Clare McCaskill on stem cells , which utilized Parkinson’s disease suffer and Hollywood star Michael J Fox, generated considerable controversy. Yet, such intervention are now part of the bioethics political landscape. This has led to the expansion of bioethics towards new disciplines and the study of bioethics has, itself, been a focal point for open and transparent cultural commentary, rather than closed committee governance eg. in the rise of bioart.
  5. 5. UNCERTAINTY I: Who will define bioethics? The first uncertainty facing the future of bioethics has to do with who will contribute to shaping its priorities and work. Arguably, bioethics has already become a very different entity from whence it came, though not due simply to technological change. Rather, today’s political landscape implies greater expectations of science and, perhaps more importantly, greater scrutiny over scientific practice. Consider the recent discussions about climate change data emerging from the University of East Anglia. Alternatively, in 2007, the advertisement campaign by the USA Senator Clare McCaskill on stem cells , which utilized Parkinson’s disease suffer and Hollywood star Michael J Fox, generated considerable controversy. Yet, such intervention are now part of the bioethics political landscape. This has led to the expansion of bioethics towards new disciplines and the study of bioethics has, itself, been a focal point for open and transparent cultural commentary, rather than closed committee governance eg. in the rise of bioart.
  6. 17. UNCERTAINTY I: Who will define bioethics? <ul><li>These various interventions are: </li></ul><ul><li>contributing to public engagement with bioethics </li></ul><ul><li>shaping how research in bioethics takes place </li></ul><ul><li>c) asking new questions about the place of bioethics in society </li></ul><ul><li>d) reconstituting the professional sphere of bioethics (particularly its interface with science). </li></ul>
  7. 18. UNCERTAINTY II: Which issues will dominate bioethics? Twenty first century bioethics faces a number of transformations. Primarily, there is a growing fragmentation of ethical communities (research and practice), which is giving rise to new terminologies, such as nanoethics or neuroethics. This fragmentation has been evident for some years through the overlapping ground between bioethics and medical ethics or environmental ethics. However, it is evident that this fragmentation will continue to grow through more specialist inquiries into subjects that include, for instance, the emerging subjects of information ethics, or the ethics of outer space. Each of these sub-disciplines emphasizes the importance of transdisciplinary approaches to bioethics, which draw heavily on philosophy, law, sociology, political science, for instance. The fragmentation of bioethics is also amplified by convergence in the biosciences that operates around nanoscience . This process raises new questions about how to develop bioethical theory in a way that can accommodate new scientific practices. A corollary of these shifts is a growing sophistication in the bioethical method , which has begun to encompass narrative studies, feminist approaches to bioethics, cultural theory and aesthetics eg. big donor show – media activism .
  8. 19. UNCERTAINTY III: Which applications of science will arise? There are ongoing uncertainties over how experimental science will be applied within society, which create specific problems over how bioethics should focus attention. This relates particularly to the extent to which it will be developed and commercialized . In particular, the crisis of bioethics is rooted in the crisis within medicine and health care , which is unable to place limits on the pursuit of health . In so doing, it is giving rise to an era of non-therapeutic interventions, which leads towards an era of human enhancement . This uncertainty over its application leads to wide reaching debates about potential implications. For example, critics argue that nanoscience and its products pose a substantial unknown risk to human health and the environment, particularly with regards to engineered nanoparticles, missing risk assessments and non-existent regulations. Yet, the extent of this risk is very hard to predict, thus giving rise to such far reaching proposals – treated as serious debate - about the possibility of grey goo taking over the planet. Such projections have led to some scholars critiquing the speculative ethics that has followed in the wake of such uncertainty (Nordmann 2007), while others argue on behalf of a distinct ethical approach to emerging science and technology (Swierstra and Rip 2007).
  9. 20. UNCERTAINTY IV: Public engagement, undertstanding or idiocy? Bioethics can look forward to a future where trends towards user generated content influence the public’s understanding and engagement with science even further. Whether such trends advance science communication towards the upstream model or lead towards a new conceptualization of science in society , remains to be seen. However, their transformation of the media and political landscape of science communication towards a bottom-up community of engaged publics is already evident and coheres with the trend towards open access and collaborative science, which has characterized large scale research projects in recent years, such as the Human Genome Project. To this end, open source bioethics may provide a much-needed alignment of an optimal model of communication, with optimal conditions of progressing scientific research through collaboration and shared ownership.
  10. 22. IMAGE CREDITS Page views from ‘Human Futures’ (2008) Jennifer Willet, Photo by Adam Zaretsky, BIOplay: Bacteria Cultures (Performance and Digital Photography The Art and Genomics Centre, The University of Leiden, 2008) Revital Cohen, Telepresence Frame (2008, RCA) Michael Burton, Nanotopia (2006, RCA) Dunne and Raby ‘Evidence Dolls Doll Ilustrations by Åbäke, Photos by Suspect Culture (2007) graphics by Timothy Stock and Warren Heiss from the book alphabet city published by mit press. Also used for the documentary Strange Culture (2007, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Dir.) Yann Marussich, Photo by Andy Miah, Blue Remix (FACT, 2008) Kira O'Reilly, Photo by Manuel Vason, inthewrongplaceness, HOME (2005) Stelarc, Stelarc, Extra Ear: Ear On Arm (Scaffold) (2006, London, Los Angeles & Melbourne, Photo by Nina Sellars) Revital Cohen, Respiratory Dog (2008) etoyCORPORATION, Photo by Luca Zanier, Sarcophagus

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