Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations might be applicable to the processes involved in biotechnologies as well as the products derived from them. Ethical considerations, of course, are not new to the specific biotechnologies discussed in this report, but the general public often makes ethical distinctions among genetic engineering in plants and animals for biomedical research, for pharmaceutical production, and for food production (Sparks, 1995; Frewer et al., 1997).

Ethical considerations generally are normative and cannot be resolved scientifically. Yet, to ignore them is to assume that science can and should be value-free—an obvious contradiction, since this is a normative assertion in itself (Thompson, 2001). Moreover, as noted above, values can influence both the design of scientific inquiry and the interpretation of data, and certainly can motivate much of the pressure brought to bear on regulatory agencies and other government bodies to address impacts of biotechnology beyond those directly affecting health and the environment.

One view, which focuses on the consequences of applying animal biotechnologies, holds that their ethical significance must derive from the risk to people, animals, and/or the environment (Rollin, 1986; Thompson, 2001). This utilitarian conceptualization sees the technology as directly or indirectly initiating event(s) that are knowable and, to some extent, quantifiable. Through this lens, an ethical analysis would, for example, address the degree of pain and suffering of animals and/or defined risks to human health or the environment, and would draw conclusions based on those consequences. Of course, quantifying pain and suffering or risks associated with hazards about which there is considerable uncertainty remains a significant problem. In fact, some people conclude that because some genetic technologies are characterized by large uncertainties about their consequences, and for high-stakes decisions, it is morally irresponsible to proceed with their application (The Royal Society, 2001).

Some people, however, without regard to the purpose to which the technology is to be put or its consequences, consider genetic engineering of animals fundamentally unethical. This stance might be based on the belief that these technologies violate certain rights or appropriate relationships between humans and nature or God, independent of the consequences of the technologies. This stance also might be based on the conviction that animals have certain rights. Sentience, or the capacity for sensation or feeling, sometimes is used as the quality necessary for moral consideration. Another somewhat related view holds that genetic manipulation of animals for human purposes is disrespectful, and inappropriately interferes fundamentally with animal integrity, dignity, or essential nature. In an address to the Royal Society of Agriculture, Heap (1995) stated, “Programmes which threaten an animal’s characteristics and form by restricting its ability to reproduce normally, or which

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