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The Bioethical Limits of Technology

The Future of Medical Technology: Raising Awareness to a Growing Industry

 

To get you thinking about what kind of technology might be available…Take this Quiz!!

Ethical Questions This Topic Presents:

 

Why This Needs to Be Discussed:

Daniel Kraft shows us where technology can take us in health and medicine. He pulls out countless gadgets of his jacket that will change the future of health-monitoring and improve our access to personal health care.

 

Two Specific Examples of Growing Technology

Because there are just too many growing types of tech in the biological field, we will look specifically at two kinds that can affect individuals and society.

Gene Editing: Individual Effect

Gene editing is a new growing form of treatments for patients where doctors plan to inject either artificial cells or stem cells (from the patient’s own tissue) into areas or other cells. From this, they will be able to “edit” mutated genes to become what they should be. Although it began in the 1970s, it did not gain popularity until these past ten years. While researchers are still testing and experimenting with different techniques, the FDA has released two genetic treatments for patients with a certain type of leukemia and another for vision loss. There are many types of gene editing such as these new treatments which are gene therapy or stem cells, which could possibly be used to exemplify certain traits in babies before being born.The FDA has also released a set of regulations and guidelines for clinics who wish to develop new products to “try” on patients or begin use for different diseases. Despite its growing popularity, there are still arguments that we must not rush this process or expose it to the public too quick. Gene editing has exponentially grown in the past few years, so there have been debates in the bioethical world about the impacts it might have on our society and individuals. While genetic editing will change a large part of the medical world, the main stakeholders in these cases are patients and their families because they will be the ones actually experiencing the change. 

Pro Argument:

We must take advantage of the new technology available to us. While there is some risk, the benefits and outcomes outweigh them.

Bioethical Principles:

Justice: While there may be an initial issue with money, once genetic editing becomes more popular and normal in everyday life, it will no longer apply solely to the rich. It will become a normal treatment for cancer or option for parents to use on their children. Although it may be expensive in the beginning of its use, it will rise in popularity and become more affordable.

Beneficence: Gene editing has the potential to cure cancer and other diseases that have currently have ineffective treatments or harmful ones. There are becoming more possibilities each day that could help stop genetic disorders, help embryos become healthier, and effectively create stem cells to fix damaged or missing tissue. Genetic editing should become available sooner than later so we can help save more lives. Children and families will be able to benefit greatly. In addition, hospitals will be able to cure more patients more frequently and quicker with new possible treatments.

Nonmaleficence: While there are risks, there are risks with any new medical research. However, if we have the potential to cure patients and do nothing about it, then we will be taking no action to stop harm. Gene editing can stop harm as long as it is practiced safely. 

Autonomy: Patients will be fully informed of the potential risks and benefits that come with each procedure. They will have the option to give or not give consent, as it will only be an additional option to other treatments available.

 

Con Argument:

While the technology is impressive and can be researched, we have to monitor the possible outcomes that could come from rushing this technology too quickly.

Bioethical Principles:

Justice: Accessibility to genetic editing will only be open to those with money. It will solely be based on equity and many will not be able to use its resources. Also, because it is research based, where one lives could affect whether or not they are given rights to use it. In addition, those in third world countries, who may need it to help, will not be able to use it.

Beneficence: Although there are potential benefits, researchers and doctors cannot overlook the harm they will do to patients if not done properly.

Nonmaleficence: We have so little knowledge of this type of technology and the outcomes that come with it. Families could end up losing their children or end with them having more defects. Once genetic editing becomes open to all the public, stem cells will be taken advantage of to create “designer babies” and make perfect societies. Also, many clinics will be able to develop new unsafe treatments and will perform trials on patients as this becomes more popular, which will most likely cause harm to many patients and hurt the credibility of genetic editing itself.

Autonomy: Patients will never be able to give full consent because no one will know all the risks or benefits. This technology will also cause a problem with parents using autonomy to change their child to become a “designer baby” before it is even born.

Opinons:

Family Perspective:

Pro: “We believe that when this treatment is approved it will save thousands of children’s lives around the world. I hope that someday all of you on the advisory committee can tell your families for generations that you were part of the process that ended the use of toxic treatments like chemotherapy and radiation as standard treatment, and turned blood cancers into a treatable disease.”

Con: “Despite having a genetic disorder, my child has turned out the exact way I wanted him to, and I would never want to have unnaturally changed him.”

Doctor Perspective:

Pro: “If we have tools that can one day help doctors safely and effectively correct mutations, whether prior to or just after conception, it seems to me that we’d be justified in using them.

Con: “Humans have been reproducing for millennia aided only by the DNA mutations that arise naturally, and for us to begin directing that process ​seems almost perverse.” 

 

Geoengineering the Planet: Global Effect

Geoengineering is a new type of technology scientists have suggested that includes many different types of machines that could lower the climate temperature. Currently our planet is changing due to our overuse of carbon, fossil fuels, and artificial chemicals. While this issue is not the traditional bioethical issue we think about, it is directly related to it because we are changing the natural world and biology of plants and habitats. Very few people think about how their everyday lives affect the environment, but if we keep living this way, our planet may change forever. Animals will go extinct, ice will melt, sea levels will raise and ocean water could overtake islands, land will erode, and many other effects most people do not think about in their everyday lives. However, there is the potential to help. While scientists are still exploring these methods, we must also consider how artificially fixing our mistakes to the environment might affect society as a whole. Some examples of how we might artificially lower our planet’s temperature are reflecting sunlight from space, adding vast quantities of lime or iron filings to the oceans, pumping deep cold nutrient-rich waters to the surface of oceans and irrigating vast areas of the north African and Australian deserts to grow millions of trees. The environment is the biggest stakeholder. Even though people’s opinions might change or there might be some types of affect on humans, the decision about whether to geoengineer our planet or not will greatly influence how our environment is helped, treated, and impacted.

 

Pro Argument: 

The only chance we have at saving our planet is to do what we do best and create technology to fix it. The CO2 levels are rising too much, and we cannot go back now naturally. Our planet is suffering, and we have methods that could possibly help.

Bioethical Principles:

Justice: This new technology will benefit our whole planet. While it may be expensive, countries will share this technology with parts of the world that need it most. Once one country can create an effective machine that will benefit the environment, it will not be just theirs. It will be the entire world’s new machine to help save our planet.

Beneficence: We can never be sure of new technology, but based on how people are treating our planet currently, the only way to save it from more harm is to artificially change it. A few of the examples above could make incredible change even if only used little. Geoengineering could easily be creating more solar energy or adding sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere where we know it will reflect some of the sun’s light. We would only be acting to benefit humans and nature, and not to cause any more harm because if something does not work, then we will not do it again. However, these new technologies could greatly benefit our planet and future generations that want to live the same lives we were able to in our environment.

Nonmaleficence: While we cannot be sure of the effects that will come, we know that if we continue living the way we do, our environment will not be able to survive. We need to take action, and natural changes have not been effective enough. People are not going to change until something terrible happens, and if we have the technology to stop that, we will be doing more harm if we don’t take advantage of it.

Autonomy: This will change the societal view of our environment, and researchers, scientists, and world leaders will be able to make an informative decision about whether or not this technology should be implemented.

Con Argument:

All methods that are currently being researched have a large potential backfire effect. Not only may they actually harm our planet more, but they may also instill the attitude in people that we can continue destroying our planet because we know have technology to fix it.

Bioethical Principles:

Justice: All new technology is expensive, however this one in particular will only be available to the first world countries of the world. While they claim that they will help everyone, if they have machines to help their countries, they will solely focus on themselves unless they have extra money to help others.

Beneficence:  There is the potential benefit for helping our planet and relieving some stress on nature, however we can never know the consequences or outcomes that might come with trying to artificially change nature.

Nonmaleficence: The examples listed above can all be counteracted. Ocean upwelling, or the bringing up of deep cold waters, would cool surface water temperatures and reduce sea ice melting, but would unbalance the global heat budget, while adding iron filings or lime would affect the oxygen levels in the oceans. Reflecting the sun’s rays into space would alter rainfall patterns and reforesting the deserts could change wind patterns and could even reduce tree growth in other regions. While there could be benefits, we could end up harming out planet more. In addition, if we implement new everyday technology, the small part of people that try to conserve energy will be thrown away because people will become reliant on these technologies to fix our planet.

Autonomy: No one will have the opportunity to decide whether or not they agree with this technology. Once it becomes developed and decided that it should be used, the citizens of each area will not be able to stop the use of it that could cause more harm.

Opinions 

Environmentalist:

“I think it’s going to be easier and cheaper to avoid making a mess than it will be to make a mess and then try to clean it up later.”

Scientist:

“If CO2 emissions remain high, the climate engineering methods … should not be solely counted on to prevent warming.”

How These Two Examples Could Combine:

While these are just two examples of the multitude of technology being developed currently, interestingly enough, there is a crossover between these two technologies.

https://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21738871-selective-breeding-and-genetic-engineering-are-both-possibilities-mass-die-offs

This article explains how we are killing our coral reefs due to our excess amount of carbon that is lowering the temperature of the ocean. While there has been discussion about geoengineering out planet to lower water temperatures, now we are facing another way of perhaps combining geoengineering with genetic editing. From artificially changing the genome of coral reefs, we have the potential to create “super corals” that could multiply more easily in warmer waters and possibly save the current epidemic happening among reefs.

 

What Lies Ahead

Bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe describes an astonishing series of recent bio-engineering experiments, and asks: Isn’t it time to set some ground rules?

Stakeholders: 

Doctors, families, individuals, society, and more. Everyone will be affected by this new update in technology. Individuals may be cured or harmed. Our society may become more reliant on technology, but we can not be completely sure what lies ahead, we can only plan and regulate our future. Whether it is genetic editing, geoengineering, or robotic surgeons, the entire medical world will be affected by new technology, patients, doctors, and treatments.

Vote on what you think we should do!

Poll: 

How Can You Make an Impact:

While your beliefs may differ, it is really up to you whether or not you believe we should apply technology to our lives or let life develop naturally. There is not one answer to this question. Some will believe we should apply new technology to our lives as soon as possible while other think it will become needed when it is ready to be introduced to the public. Right now, you can think about how you are going to help our biological world whether it is researching genetic editing or trying to bike more and not artificially engineering our climate, it is up to you to decide what is ethical.

How Much Do You Want Technology To Change Our Biological World? 

Share your thoughts!

Sources:

http://medicalfuturist.com/the-most-exciting-medical-technologies-of-2017/

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/12/health/fda-novartis-leukemia-gene-medicine.html

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/609632/four-amazing-things-gene-editing-did-in-2017/

https://ideas.ted.com/opinion-should-we-use-gene-editing-to-produce-disease-free-babies-a-scientist-who-helped-discover-crispr-weighs-in/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/embryo-gene-editing-experiment-reignites-ethical-debate/

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150210-national-academy-geoengineering-report-climate-change-environment/

https://www.newscientist.com/gallery/geoengineering/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb/25/geoengineering-side-effects-potentially-disastrous-scientists

https://www.newscientist.com/gallery/geoengineering/

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COMMENTS: 6
  1. April 26, 2018 by Kiran Sundar

    Fascinating project page! I think there needs to be a much greater focus on bioethics and bioethical questions now more than ever. Our technology (in this case, gene editing and geoengineering tech) is progressing at a much faster rate than our laws and ethical guidelines, and that creates a much greater risk of injury to people and the planet. I think starting the conversation about bioethical issues is really important, and I think this page did a great job of outlining some of the central dilemmas. (Also, speaking of gene editing and its repercussions, totally check out the movie Gattaca if you’ve not seen it.)

  2. April 27, 2018 by Isabel.Haas

    This is an interesting and important topic to discuss. Especially in today’s world, when we are running out of time to stop the environment from being destroyed (and our current US president is only making the problem worse), we need to decide whether it would be possible to carry out a geoengineering project on such a large scale like those that you described to try to save our planet. I also thought you brought up an interesting point about how if such a project were to happen, it might backfire because people would become reliant on that project to save the environment and would continue their current polluting behaviors. Also, gene editing is something that I have heard about but have not really considered the ethics of before reading your page, and I thought you did a good job of providing the pros and cons. Your page was well written, clear, and informative. Nice job!

    • April 27, 2018 by Annabel Edwards

      Thank you! I agree that with our current political climate, people (and our government) are forgetting or dismissing environmental issues, which I think is part of the reason researchers might be responding in this way.

  3. April 28, 2018 by Zain.Palanpur

    This presentation was really cool. I love the way you built it around two examples and created a list of pros and cons and furthered it with statements made from those involved such as parents and scientists. I think your subject is very strong as arguments can be made for it either way and it is a big dilemma that we must answer as we get more and more advanced in our technology. Anyways, this was a really well-executed project, great job!

    • April 28, 2018 by Annabel.Edwards

      hey zain, thanks for your feedback! I’m glad you were able to see the dilemma our modern world is facing.

  4. April 29, 2018 by Summer

    Annabel,
    This was such an interesting presentation! I learned so much about gene-editing, and was introduced to the topic of geo-engineering. I really liked the quiz you included at the beginning of the page, I really did not know very much about what technology was out there! Thanks for sharing – great job!

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