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You're Blocking My Way

Bioethics is getting in the way of biomedical advances, argues Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard University, in an op-ed appearing in the Boston Globe. He in particular refers to the recent calls for moratoria or new regulations to govern the use of CRISPR/Cas9-based tools.

He writes that biomedical research "promises vast increases in life, health, and flourishing" and that the moral path for bioethics is to "[g]et out of the way."

"A truly ethical bioethics should not bog down research in red tape, moratoria, or threats of prosecution based on nebulous but sweeping principles such as 'dignity,' 'sacredness,' or 'social justice,'" he adds. "Nor should it thwart research that has likely benefits now or in the near future by sowing panic about speculative harms in the distant future."

As Nature News notes, many researchers and ethicists disagree with Pinker's view. Daniel Sokol, a bioethicist and lawyer in the UK, writes at the University of Oxford's Practical Ethics blog that "[b]ioethics is not opposed to research and progress," though it seeks to reduce the risk of harm to research participants. He adds that if researchers were left to police themselves, "[v]irtually everyone would, in good faith but quite wrongly, consider their research ethically exemplary."

At the same time, some researchers, Nature News adds, agree with Pinker's take that bioethics tends to be overly cautious regarding new technologies. Julian Savulescu, a bioethicist at the University of Oxford, tells Nature News that a moratorium on new biotech approaches "generally inappropriate because of the rapidly developing nature of science." Instead, he suggests context-specific regulations that weigh each project on its own merits.

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