Some Background Information

Some new technologies, such as nuclear power, are frightening from the start, and create an instant consensus over the need to establish political controls over their development and use. Other new technologies appear to be much more benign, and consequently subject to little or no regulation. Personal computers and the Internet are examples of this type.

Biotechnology falls somewhere between these extremes. Transgenic crops and human genetic engineering make people far more uncomfortable than do personal computers or the Internet. But biotechnology also promises important benefits for human health and well-being. The ethical problems potentially raised by human biotechnology, such as the safety of human genetic experimentation, the social impact of germ-line engineering, enhancement versus therapy, and the like, tend to be more subtle and more difficult to evaluate.

In the face of a technology like this, where good and bad are intimately connected, it is in the best interest of modern societies to control the development and use of biotechnologies politically.

There are many ways to shape to development of human biotechnologies, ranging from broad legislative bans to a laissez-faire approach. In between are regulatory approaches whose goal is to determine which applications may be regarded as acceptable and which ones should be restricted.

With this project, we explore options for controlling the research in and applications of reprogenetics, research activities focused on the beginning of life and procedures aimed at preventing the inheritance of genetic diseases, such as research cloning, stem cell research, and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

To examine the pros and cons of various regulatory options we have convened a study group. It consists of approximately 45 individuals representing both academia (scientific community, public administration, law, bioethics, economics) and political constituencies (scientific societies, trade associations, advocacy groups).

The group will meet periodically over a period of two years. Each meeting is built around a presentation by an outside speaker, to be followed by a discussion.

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