How do we regulate advanced technologies along social or ethical lines?

February 17, 2017

How do we regulate advanced technologies along social or ethical lines? ASU expert says powerful new technologies are stretching the boundaries of science and science policy

Society faces several new and very powerful technologies that could alter the human trajectory into the future and, for the most part, the public wants clear guidelines as to how these technologies like gene editing are managed to ensure they are used safely. But the public's wariness with these new technologies is largely based on ethical, religious and social concerns, rather than concerns about safety or efficacy, which is what regulatory agencies are limited to consider.

So what the public wants and what can be currently provided are a mismatch at best. As a result, regulatory agencies are struggling to come up with best practices to use in this technology driven world while staying within their regulatory authority, according to Arizona State University Regents Professor of Law, Gary Marchant.

"The dilemma we face is that many of the public's concerns about emerging technologies are 'out of bounds' for the institutions we rely on to regulate those technologies," said Marchant, speaking today (Feb. 17) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston. "Expressly considering ethical and social concerns would result in controversy and legal quagmire," he added. "On the other hand, not considering the factors that drive much of public sentiment may be undemocratic and ineffective."

Marchant's presentation "Governing Ethical, Social and Religious Aspects of Biotechnologies," outlines the current public sentiment on advance biotechnologies, like cloning of animals and human gene editing, and the public's concerns with and perceptions of these technologies.

Using animal cloning as an example, Marchant said religious and ethical concerns dominate the public's unease with it, far outweighing any safety concerns about the technology. The sense of 'playing god' or some internal unease with the technology was more of a driving force for wanting regulation, than safety effects of the technology on that specific species or fear of the risks involved, he said.

Using this week's National Academy of Sciences report on gene editing, which he co-authored, Marchant drew parallels between the public's concerns on that technology - in this instance it lies with the ethical aspects of tinkering with the human germline and enhancement engineering - and how best to proceed incorporating social, ethical and religious aspects into regulations.

"For some technologies within this domain we could ask that the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee - established by the National Institutes of Health and which now provides a public sounding board on controversial or novel human gene therapy protocols - to deliberate and engage on ethical and social issues associated with human gene editing, or we could develop a robust program for public consultation and dialogue on the topic," Marchant said.

Other possible solutions, he added, include having the regulatory agencies in charge expand their definitions of safety and efficacy to incorporate ethical and social concerns; give agencies statutory authority to consider ethical and social issues; create a separate agency to consider ethical and social issues; or require an ethics impact statement for major regulatory actions.

"As biotechnologies grow more powerful and increasingly raise more profound ethical issues, we can no longer leave these ethical and social dimensions off the decision making table," said Marchant. "To do so would be profoundly undemocratic and detrimental to the success of those technologies."
-end-


Arizona State University

Related Technology Articles from Brightsurf:

December issue SLAS Technology features 'advances in technology to address COVID-19'
The December issue of SLAS Technology is a special collection featuring the cover article, ''Advances in Technology to Address COVID-19'' by editors Edward Kai-Hua Chow, Ph.D., (National University of Singapore), Pak Kin Wong, Ph.D., (The Pennsylvania State University, PA, USA) and Xianting Ding, Ph.D., (Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China).

October issue SLAS Technology now available
The October issue of SLAS Technology features the cover article, 'Role of Digital Microfl-uidics in Enabling Access to Laboratory Automation and Making Biology Programmable' by Varun B.

Robot technology for everyone or only for the average person?
Robot technology is being used more and more in health rehabilitation and in working life.

Novel biomarker technology for cancer diagnostics
A new way of identifying cancer biomarkers has been developed by researchers at Lund University in Sweden.

Technology innovation for neurology
TU Graz researcher Francesco Greco has developed ultra-light tattoo electrodes that are hardly noticeable on the skin and make long-term measurements of brain activity cheaper and easier.

April's SLAS Technology is now available
April's Edition of SLAS Technology Features Cover Article, 'CURATE.AI: Optimizing Personalized Medicine with Artificial Intelligence'.

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.

Post-lithium technology
Next-generation batteries will probably see the replacement of lithium ions by more abundant and environmentally benign alkali metal or multivalent ions.

Rethinking the role of technology in the classroom
Introducing tablets and laptops to the classroom has certain educational virtues, according to Annahita Ball, an assistant professor in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, but her research suggests that tech has its limitations as well.

The science and technology of FAST
The Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), located in a radio quiet zone, with the targets (e.g., radio pulsars and neutron stars, galactic and extragalactic 21-cm HI emission).

Read More: Technology News and Technology Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.