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Ethicists take center stage as biotech acquires new capabilities

Right and wrong become business questions
Ethicists take center stage as biotech acquires new capabilities
San Francisco Business Times - May 26, 2006
by Daniel S. Levine

Baseball's steroid scandal has focused on a question of punctuation. If Barry Bonds surpasses Hank Aaron on the all-time list of home run hitters, should the record be followed by an exclamation point or an asterisk?

But when legal scholars, ethicists, political scientists and others gather at Stanford University on May 26 to 28 for "Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights," their discussion will extend well beyond mundane steroids to include implantable computer chips to improve brain power, the use of bionic suits
that provide the wearer superhuman strength or the use of genetic modification to enhance human abilities.

The rapid pace of advancing biotechnology is raising complex questions about how technology should be used, who should profit from certain advances, how the benefits of these technologies should be distributed and how people should be protected from unintended effects and consequences.

Whether biotechnology companies want to listen or not, bioethics are increasingly shaping public opinion and public policy about emerging technologies and their implications.

"Bioethics are no longer restricted to the academy," said Christopher Scott, executive director of Stanford University's Center for Biomedical Ethics' Program in Stem Cells and Society. "The Bush presidency, more than any other, has shown that these individuals can actually influence public policy in a major way."

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