Ethics and genetic engineering
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Ethics and Genetic Engineering. What Is Genetic Engineering?. “Genetic Engineering” = Creating organisms with novel genetic sequences. Reiss and Straughan 1996. Pest Resistance: Bt Corn. Herbicide Tolerance. “Roundup Ready”. Enhanced Nutrition. Golden rice. Commercial Value.

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What is genetic engineering
What Is Genetic Engineering?

  • “Genetic Engineering” = Creating organisms with novel genetic sequences.

    • Reiss and Straughan 1996

Herbicide tolerance
Herbicide Tolerance

“Roundup Ready”

Enhanced nutrition
Enhanced Nutrition

Golden rice

Commercial value
Commercial Value

  • Fast-growing salmon

Ethical arguments about biotechnology
Ethical Arguments About Biotechnology

  • Intrinsic: Biotechnology is good/bad in itself

  • Extrinsic: Biotechnology is good/bad because of:

    • itsconsequences

    • the motivations behind:

      • advocacy of biotech or

      • opposition to biotech

Intrinsic arguments against biotechnology
Intrinsic Arguments Against Biotechnology

  • Premise: Genetic engineering is unnatural.

  • Conclusion: Therefore, genetic engineering is intrinsically wrong.

    • Is this a good argument?

Intrinsic arguments against biotechnology1
Intrinsic Arguments Against Biotechnology

  • Genetic engineering requires that we take a reductionist view of life that sees only genes, not individuals, as important.

    • “From the reductionist perspective, life is merely the aggregate representation of the chemicals that give rise to it and therefore they see no ethical problem whatsoever in transferring…even a hundred genes from one species into the heredity blueprint of another species.”

      • Jeremy Rifkin

Extrinsic arguments about biotechnology
Extrinsic Arguments About Biotechnology

  • Biotechnology is good/bad because of its consequences.

  • Three ways to evaluate consequences:

    • Do no harm (avoid bad consequences).

    • Maximize good consequences and minimize bad ones for all affected.

    • Justice: Fair distribution of good and bad consequences among all affected.

Extrinsic arguments about biotechnology1
Extrinsic Arguments About Biotechnology

  • Biotechnology is good/bad because of the motivations of its proponents/opponents.

Extrinsic arguments motivations
Extrinsic Arguments: Motivations

  • Friends of the Earth: “Golden rice may never help poor farmers, but it could give the beleaguered European biotech industry a new grasp on life.”

  • Florence Wambugu: “These critics [of biotech], who have never experienced hunger and death on the scale we sadly witness in Africa, are content to keep Africans dependent on food aid from industrialized nations while mass starvation occurs.”

Extrinsic arguments about biotechnology2
Extrinsic Arguments About Biotechnology

  • Environmental consequences

  • Human health consequences

  • Who benefits?

  • Who decides?

The precautionary principle
The Precautionary Principle

“When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

  • Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, Jan. 1998

    “Lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

  • Rio Declaration 1992

Image credits
Image Credits

  • Bt Corn: United States General Accounting Office. Genetically Modified Foods: Experts view regimen of safety tests as adequate, but FDA’s evaluation process could be enhanced. May 2002.


  • Reiss and Straughan (1996), Improving Nature? (Cambridge University Press).

  • Precautionary Principle: The Science and Environmental Health Network,