The Challenge of Biotechnology and Public Policy

4. The “Humanity” of Future Generations

The creation of this knowledge and its possible (ab)uses, will affect future generations as well. Personal and collective ethics will need to reflect an understanding of the transgenerational effects and the accompanying new and different obligations. Such obligations may or may not include deliberate interfering in the germ line for example in order to avoid the transmission of a given disease to the next generation. The globalization of science, of economies and of information take transgenerational concerns beyond the domestic to an international scale. Similarly, bioethics must move from the private, to the collective, to a truly universal level. A complex systems approach that recognizes the dynamic and epigenetic nature of a new BIOethics at the very level of the cell in all living organisms needs to be encouraged.

The last half of this century has seen the development of bioethics as a form of questioning personal values and the relationship of humans to each other and to the environment and this particularly in quality of life choices. Confronted with new biotechnological and informatic possibilities, such ethics continue to stress respect for individual autonomy and privacy. In the medical setting both the principles of do not harm and maximizing benefit over risk have predominated decision-making. Only in the last few years has attention turned to questions of distributive justice, of equity and more recently, of relational or communitarian ethics but not yet to transgenerational ethics. Likewise, human rights has moved beyond individual claims (civil or economic rights) to encompass the concerns of groups, populations and communities. Confronted then with the new genomic revolution and the personal and collective choices it presents, whither public policy?

Only in the last few years has attention turned to questions of distributive justice, of equity and more recently, of relational or communitarian ethics but not yet to transgenerational ethics.

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