Two weeks ago, in the blog post “A Background on Deliberation and Education in Bioethics,” we discussed the role of deliberation and education in the recommendations issued by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission). These principles remain a common thread throughout the Bioethics Commission’s work. This second post of the new “Deliberation and Education” series will examine the role that these two principles played in the Commission’s first report: New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies.
Released in December 2010, New Directions was undertaken at the request of President Barack Obama, who asked the Bioethics Commission to review the developing field of synthetic biology and identify appropriate ethical boundaries to maximize public benefits and minimize risks. The Commission made 18 recommendations in the report, centering around five ethical principles: public beneficence; responsible stewardship; intellectual freedom and responsibility; democratic deliberation; and justice and fairness.
In order to promote responsible stewardship, the Bioethics Commission made a recommendation (#9) that included ethics education:
Ethics education similar or superior to the training required today in the medical and clinical research communities should be developed and required for all researchers and student-investigators outside the medical setting, including in engineering and materials science.
The Bioethics Commission recognized that integrating ethics education into the curriculum was necessary in order to cultivate responsible research practices. In addition, democratic deliberation appeared as its own principle with three corresponding recommendations (# 14-16):
Stakeholders are encouraged to maintain an ongoing exchange regarding their views on synthetic biology and related emerging technologies, sharing their perspectives with the public and with policy makers.
When discussing synthetic biology, individuals and deliberative forums should strive to employ clear and accurate language.
Educational activities related to synthetic biology should be expanded and directed to diverse populations of students at all levels, civil society organizations, communities, and other groups.
The three recommendations, which also include education, serve to guide democratic deliberation, a process the Bioethics Commission uses in its own decision-making.
Bioethics education and deliberation have served as a foundation for the Bioethics Commission since its very first report. These concepts appear throughout the Commission’s work, demonstrating their applicability across the biomedical, research, and clinical spheres.