The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has
released the sixth episode, “New Directions“, in its new
podcast series Ethically Sound. This podcast series is dedicated to bringing the Bioethics Commission’s body of work to a broad audience. The Bioethics Commission, established in 2009 by President Bara
ck Obama, has produced 10 reports, each of which focuses on key ethical considerations surrounding a particular topic. Today’s episode is based on the Bioethics Commission’s first report, New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies.
New Directions was written in response to a charge from President Obama, after the announcement that researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute had created the world’s first self-replicating synthetic genome in a bacterial cell. This news resulted in intense media coverage and hyped claims about the implications of this research. President Obama asked the Bioethics Commission to review the developing field of synthetic biology and to identify appropriate ethical boundaries that would both maximize public benefits and minimize risks. The Bioethics Commission considered a diverse range of perspectives on the direction and implications of synthetic biology throughout its public deliberations. Taking into consideration both the tremendous promise and the potential risks that could arise from developments in synthetic biology, the commission put forth 18 recommendations that outline important ethical considerations for synthetic biology. The recommendations include a call for increased federal oversight of research in synthetic biology, and a recommendation for incorporating ethics training for researchers in fields such as engineering and materials science, who might become involved in synthetic biology research.
The podcast opens with a narrative from Eleonore Pauwels, Senior Program Associate within the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Ms. Pauwels shared her reaction to the announcement from the Venter Institute, and her perspective on how ethical issues would need to be addressed in this emerging technology. She said, “Today we still face an unresolved question: How do we develop a culture of inclusive public deliberation and decision-making that could guide integration of synthetic biology and all new technologies into society?”
The podcast also includes an interview with the Vice Chair of the Bioethics Commission and former President of Emory University, Dr. James Wagner. Hillary Wicai Viers, former Communications Director with the Bioethics Commission staff, conducted the interview. Dr. Wagner discussed the relevance of the commission’s report for current and future developments in synthetic biology, and how this first report set the tone for the rest of the commission’s body of work. Dr. Wagner noted that the ethical principles established in this report were foundational to subsequent projects, as well. He said, “We found ourselves in subsequent reports also recommending that there needs to be greater education in the area of bioethics, and education of our public to understand the current state of the art. We found ourselves coming back to those [ethical principles] over and over again in subsequent works that we did, whether it was work in neuroscience or work in genome sequencing.”
Episode 6 is now available on our website, as well as on our SoundCloud, YouTube and iTunes pages. In addition to this episode, listeners can access the first five episodes of Ethically Sound. Listeners can follow the podcast using the hashtag #EthicallySound or by following us on Twitter @bioethicsgov. Stay tuned for the seventh episode in our s
eries, “Ethically Impossible,” which will be available on October 24, 2016. We welcome comments and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.