Money is Power

“As a condition of the investment, Perkins joined Swanson and Boyer on the board of directors and was elected chairman. Little did Perkins know at the outset  how heavily instrumental he would continue to be in the company’s constant fund raising. “What was so different about Genentech,’ he later observed, ‘ was the astonishing amout of capital required to do all this. I know, on day one one, if anyone had wispered into my ear that, ‘For the next 20 years, you will be involved in raising litereally billions of dollars for this thing,’ I might not have done it ‘(47)”(Hughes, pg. 42)

 

Funding is an essential part of big business. Similarly in politics, to continue you need massive amounts of funding. I believe that this was partially important in medical programs being federally funded. This brings into question federal funding and how much they are allocating towards these medical programs. It is obvious that the government does not have unlimited amounts of money but does the industrial interest in biotech mean that the government isn’t doing enough. Or should their be laws put in place to protect the world from the largest industry in the world? If there are companies who are making greater technological advancement than the government, is that a problem for society? It would seem that governments need to do something as far as structural safety measures to entice more scientists towards the publicly funded sector. Whether this means re-evaluating the application process for grants and the bureaucratic requirements to receiving those grants.

To protect the medical research field, I think that this amount of economic influence today is unacceptable. It taints the waters of research but more than that tips the balance of power and ethics. A clear disadvantage of private funding is less control and input in the decision making process that the scientist has. With government oversight the goals were kept clear, profits kept low, and business was a side thought, all while maintaining a standard of ethics. But as discussed, this leads to outside influences effecting a field that is crucial to the health of the human race.

Money is Power

Ethics Concerning CRISPR Technology

CRISPR-cas 9 technology allows biologist to edit genes. Cas-9 is an enzyme that works as biological scissors that can cut DNA. A small RNA molecule is required to direct the enzyme to a specific sequence of interest. Once the DNA is cut out, the natural machinery of the bodies DNA repair mechanism takes over and will seal up the cut out DNA ends. This technology can be used to alter protein/gene expression, which could be very helpful when researching ways for curing diseases. This brings up an ethical question of who should be able to alter genes? Should parents be able to alter genes of their unborn child to prevent them from being deaf, having a certain eye color, certain disease etc? If this technology was offered to the public, what would be the price?

Personally, it does not seem ethical to spend this technology editing certain genes that could make a parents ideal child. You shouldn’t be able to choose whether or not you want your child to have certain features. It almost seems as if it would be playing to role of God. It seems as if this technology was offered to the public, it would have to come with many regulations. I think that using this gene editing tool to prevent disease would be awesome though. If science was able to block a certain viral protein from being formed but cutting out the DNA that codes for it, it could prevent multiple fatal diseases. It just becomes the next question of what is the limitations of this technology? How would companies prevent people from going to far with this technology? Below is a picture of the CRISPR-cas-9 system.

crispr-cas9-CO013130

Ethics Concerning CRISPR Technology

Human Genetic Research and Ethics

On page 93, Hughes mentions that UCSF and Harvard faced some difficulties because their research used human genetic material. I wanted to know more about using human genetic material in research. I found an article that talked about human genetic research and all that it entails.

http://www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/eng/policy-politique/initiatives/tcps2-eptc2/chapter13-chapitre13/

This article addresses how genetic research can violate some ethics. This is due to all the information that researches can get from a person’s genetic material. This includes ancestry and cultural background. The question is asked if this is too much to know? Does this violate a person’s privacy? The article brings up a lot of good points about this and really makes you one think about how much should be kept private.

The article also talks about the rights that the individual has when it comes to the researchers sharing the findings of the experiment and who can know the information. I was also surprised to read about genetic material banks where genetic material is collected and stored for future analysis.

This article really opened my eyes to how challenging the world of human genetic research is and how many different factors need to be considered when doing this type of research.

Human Genetic Research and Ethics

Biomedical Patent Controversy

Over the course of this semester, we have been discussing patents, the difficulties with patent laws, and ethical controversies over patents. I noticed this recurring theme in Chapter 1, when Reimers suggested the Cohen and Boyer patent their invention of recombinant DNA.

“Patenting in academic biomedicine was controversial on ethical grounds. . .a common belief dating to the early years of the century was that discoveries in biomedicine, especially those related to human health, should be publicly available and not restricted by patents.” ( Hughes, 21).

The Hastings Center, a “nonpartisan research institution dedicated to bioethics and the public interest” published an article written by Josephine Johnston, titled “Intellectual Property and Biomedicine.”   In this article, Johnston dives into the history and concern around biomedical patents. In this article, she touches on some of the most important ethical questions around biomedical patents:

“Is it acceptable to assert ownership over material derived from the human body? Do all these patents meet the legal criteria for patenting? What are the consequences for research—could patents slow the pace of innovation by restricting access to biological materials and processes? What are the consequences for lifesaving tests and treatments—could patents limit access to them?” (Johnston)

Johnston touches on most of the important areas surrounding biomedical patents. She explains the history, advantages and disadvantage of patenting, and some of the current legal policies surrounding biomedical patents. Its easy to throw a patent on a novel, physical invention and claim ownership. The lines become blurred when the novel item in question is not physically tangible, but still beneficial and profitable. The controversy over whether or not intellectual material can or should be patented is deeper than many may suspect. This short article is a great resource for learning about some of the implications about intellectual patents and how it relates to the biomedical and biotechnology fields specifically.

 

Biomedical Patent Controversy

Genetic Nature of Personality Traits

“Hamer noticed a correlation: the people with more copies of the mini satellite- more stutters- exhibited a greater desire for novelty… It was one of the first studies linking a personality trait to a specified genetic state….In the coming decades, there will be a monumental leap in our knowledge of the genetic location of inherited diseases. And more and more genes will be discovered that link behavior to the chemicals in our brains, and genes tied to our urges and emotions” -Weinberg p 349-350

I think that if Weinberg were to comment on her speculation today, almost 15 years after the publication of her book, she would say genetic disease typing is moving a lot slower than she thought. I myself might just be out of the loop, but I feel like there have not been any major leaps forward in the field that studies genetic links to our personalities.

On the other hand, a 2012  article describing a study done by British researchers asserts that nature (genes) play more of a role in our personalities than nurture does, supposedly providing an answer to the nature vs. nurture debate. The study showed that identical twins were twice more likely to share personality traits than non-identical twins, who do not have identical DNA. The researchers focused on personality traits such as perseverance and self-control, and showed that there was the biggest genetic difference in these types of traits, i.e. the ability to keep going when things got hard. The researchers were less focused on individual talent, and more about what drove that talent.

I think that this is a very interesting and diverse field, with plenty of room for several applications and a great potential to make people’s lives better by understanding and diagnosing their conditions efficiently. But I also think it leaves a lot of room for ambiguity, particularly where what doctors diagnose as psychological conditions intermingle with what would now be known to be genetic predisposition. I also think that people might have more excuses for their behavior, now that they could blame their actions on DNA, or almost like instinct, as if they were forced to do something. But I think the biggest issue comes from what Weinberg was afraid of, completely knowing what every trait and gene in our body do and having a map of them. I think this is a ethical dilemma, and further research in this area would be open to ethical scrutiny of not done carefully.

Genetic Nature of Personality Traits

Ethics Concerning Defense Lawyers

In most every case we see in our court system, if the defendant can afford a lawyer, they do so because they feel as if they have no chance in winning unless they pay for the service. However, in the case of murder, the questions of whether the lawyer knows if his client is guilty or not questions the moral compass of the lawyer. Should it bother the lawyer that they are defending a person guilty or rape, murder, embezzlement etc. ? In my opinion, it takes a certain mindset to do this job. The person in law schooling interested in becoming a defense lawyer has to be aware of the moral decisions he must make in his profession. I am not implying that these decisions are going to ever be easy or morally correct but this is what the profession brings. If a person can handle these situations than it might make them an excellent defense lawyer.

However, a hired defense lawyer’s obviously have a choice to let go of the client but if its a public defender they have no choice. Public defenders are assigned to a case and usually have to stay. It is part of a lawyers duty as a job to do what is best for their client, so they cannot try to give up the case. It is like gambling, the lawyer has to take the best shot at the case and it is for his own reputation as well as the well being of his client.

Another interesting suggestion I thought of was what if they client admits they are guilty but could be lying to the lawyer. There have been many cases where people try and take the rap for a loved ones bad doings so that they do not spend the rest of their life in jail. For example, a parents who knows his child committed homicide. In this case, it also doesn’t seem beneficial for the defense lawyer to know whether they are guilty or innocent. Even if they get an answer, it could be a lie in either direction. Over all, it is the side that makes the strongest case for the conviction. The way evidence is presented to the jury is a huge aspect of how the verdict comes out. Stronger evidence such as DNA, has become extremely useful in our court systems today. They knowledge of DNA has also broadened due to it being taught during primary schooling and the fact that it is all over crime shows. The awareness of it has grown which makes it more difficult for a murder/ rapist to get away with their crime.

kuwait dna

Image Source

Ethics Concerning Defense Lawyers

“Ambiguous” DNA Tests

“Taylor’s laboratory had spent the last year running all sorts of tests on the Profiler Plus system and the 310 Genetic Analyzer, he told Bartick. On numerous occasions, the results had been, at best, ambiguous.” -Weinberg 259

I find it very astounding to think that DNA tests that were being used to test people’s innocence or guilt in certain situations were not giving clear results. I think that when people’s lives are at stake, everything should be as blatantly clear as possible. This obviously ties in to the Innocence Project and its purpose of freeing wrongly convicted people, but it was from the other side: using DNA evidence to show that people were innocent. I think that it is a hard line to walk, especially because DNA evidence has the power to be so influential, so it is important that it be used ethically and carefully.

This also brings into question the nature of the court system and prosecution. Why were they so quick to accept the lab results given to them? I think it was because they were amazed by the infallibility of DNA. But as infallible as science is, it can be fallible when handled or interpreted incorrectly, either on purpose or unknowingly. I think that the best solution for this is to do all testing blind, but most importantly, make sure the technology is 100 percent accurate before it is used to convict someone of a crime. I think the end goal of the courts should be to find the person who committed the crime, not just person.

“Ambiguous” DNA Tests

Bias in Forensic Science

” I said something along the lines of, ‘This looks very promising, but for it to be used in court, we have to pass the Frye standard.’ I outlined the possible weaknesses, as I saw them; validation of the statistics, standards for matches, all the things that seemed pretty apparent to us. I thought I had given a nice talk about what would have to be done, when this woman from the Orange County crime lab stood up and said, ‘This kind of talk is dangerous. You shouldn’t be saying these kinds of things in public. Defense lawyers might find out about this and use it’ ” -Weinberg 192

I think that this attitude from forensic scientists says a lot. Firstly, I think that it shows the bias that at the time forensic scientists had towards defendants in general: they strove to prove them guilty. This statement from this woman shows that she and forensic scientists as a community were most likely to be on the side of the prosecution. This is even proven after Weinberg points out that the DNA testing was never done blind, and so forensic scientists were basically giving their own personal verdicts to the prosecution and courts.

This attitude is very alarming to me personally, because I consider myself a scientist also. It worries me to think that other scientists would inject their own opinions and biases into evidence and use science as a means to an end. For me, science and the discovery of new things should come from and be used as a way to make everyone’s lives easier and more efficient, not to meet one’s own personal agenda. It is also alarming to think that these labs and the courts were not monitoring the DNA testing, so that it would be blind. Weinberg even mentions that a scientist who studied the DNA of birds could’t even imagine doing her experiments unblinded. If birds are monitored so closely, why weren’t humans? Are they not more important and aren’t the implications more drastic? I feel as though this situation was almost a breach of ethics.

Bias in Forensic Science

Sympathy from the Jury

“The court adjourned for its morning break, and when it reconvened, Andrea Goodhart was called to the stand. She should have been a sympathetic figure: intelligent, twenty-three years old and pregnant with twins to a man who was facing a prison sentence.” -Weinberg pg 96

Oddly enough, parts of this chapter reminded me of when I read The Apology, Plato’s account of Socrates’s trial, which ended with the famous philosopher being sentenced to death. Near the end of the trial, Socrates made it clear that he didn’t want to play by the court’s rules. Unlike many defendants, Socrates said that he wasn’t going to bring his family to court, showing off his children in the hope of winning some sympathy from the jury. He believed that the speech he gave in his defense should have been enough to convince the jury on its own.
This brings us to Frediani’s trial. Andrea Goodhart was a witness because she could help paint a clearer picture of Frediani as a person, as well as supporting his alibi for the day Helena was assaulted. But you can’t deny that her being a witness could serve another purpose. It tells the jury that Frediani has a pregnant girlfriend waiting for him, enough to maybe make some jurors hesitant to declare him guilty.
Comparing Frediani’s trial to that of Socrates has started me thinking about the ethics involved in these sorts of cases. Socrates wanted to win his case on evidence alone, but Frediani’s defense attorney clearly has no issue with trying to win some sympathy from the jury if it means his client goes free.

Sympathy from the Jury

DNA and Ethics

The National DNA Database is one of the best options at the disposal of law enforcement to identify criminals. On the other hand, many people believe that it invades personal privacy because it was originally created to build a group of criminal profiles, and now it seems to have become a database for all citizens and non criminals alike. In our generation of technological savvy information systems and software, it is pretty easy to find out who exactly someone is based on their DNA and genetic information. I personally have no issue with law enforcement being able to access my DNA, but some believe that the access to this information can reveal ethnicity and disease susceptibility. Our DNA is literally everywhere, your skin cells are all over everything you touch and your saliva cells are on everything you drink or eat from. Therefore, I think it seems as if even without this DNA database, if someone wanted to get access to your DNA, or find out more about you, they would be able to anyway regardless. Furthermore, isn’t it a positive thing if the police know how to identify you? DNA analysis has helped identify missing people and human remains, so I think the pros outweigh the cons in terms of questioning whether a DNA database is ethical in our country.

DNA and Ethics

Tires-To-Sandals

“In Darwin’s language, the open connections of the tangled bank have been just as generative as the war of nature. Stephen Jay Gould makes this point powerfully in the allegory of his sandal collection: ‘The wedge of competition has been, ever since Darwin, the canonical argument for progress in normal times.’ he writes. ‘But I will claim that the wheel of quirky and unpredictable functional shift (the tire-to-sandals-principle) is the major source of what we call progress at all scales” -Johnson 239

I really agree here with Gould’s second point, that the tire-to-sandals-principle is “true” progress. I think that the most innovative and useful for moving human life forward are the principles that rely on what we have in excess or even whatever we have just lying around. Johnson illustrated this with the incubators which were made out of car parts in poorer countries where car parts were all over and easily accessible. Not only was this an efficient way of building new beneficial technology, but it ensured that it would be fixable and reliable when the time came.

Personally, I think that humans have a much greater potential for innovations such as these (sandals made from tires or the incubators made from car parts). I think that the former point made by Gould is the reason why these innovations are not made more often (or we are not made aware of them). I think part of our capitalist society is the motivation to get ahead, and so innovators, even from the fourth quadrant, tend to be focused on advancing this country, and not focused on benefiting poorer nations and people. This is obviously not necessarily always the case, as there are tons of inventions from and in developed countries that have and can help out poorer nations. But I think the focus is usually on making a prosperous country more prosperous, and finding more efficient ways to do this. I think with a cooperative effort from many prosperous nations and the creative minds within, by creating networks that are much more international and internationally accessible, we can greatly expand the “wheel of quirky and unpredictable functional shift [that] we call progress at all scales”.

Tires-To-Sandals

The Touchy Issue of Ethics

“Typical Concerns can be divided into a number of areas, ranging from biotechnology’s effects on the environment and human health to impacts on social and economic conditions and religious and moral values”(Grace, 192)

Advances in science have always brought up the question of ethics and wether it is right for something to be done when a new science finding. A new concept coming around is genetic testing, where you can go to your doctor and see if you have any genetic diseases that have been passed onto you or what you might carry. Should people be ble to have this info? what if it is a disease that cannot be treated, is it right for the person to know? I believe that it is, and i think it could save lives if it did.

 

The Touchy Issue of Ethics

Ethical Patents?

“The healing potential of plants used by indigenous people may end up providing profits to drug manufacturers as a direct result of their patent rights, while people in poor nations where the plants are found cannot afford basic medical care. The industry argues that a patent is necessary for them to invest in the development of new drugs, whose production benefits everyone” – Eric Grace, 207

I believe this situation is a very serious one and should be taken that way. In theory, there are two legitimate claims to the argument, but in reality, the pharmaceutical industry is taking advantage of their monopoly of industry in society. Indigenous people do not have an obligation to share their medical traditions with modern industry, but at the same time, pharmaceutical industries do have an obligation to use their resources to benefit all of society. This does not mean that they should exploit the indigenous people’s knowledge by using patents unfairly, but should work as hard as possible to first obtain the knowledge fairly with some kind of compensation, and second make the new medicine available and accessible to the indigenous people. If the companies make drugs that are not accessible to everyone, it can be argued that the drugs do not “benefit everyone”, and the companies are simply making profit for their own benefit.

Ethical Patents?

Prometheus

“Prometheus was the Greek demigod who stole a spark of fire and was punished by Zeus for his presumption. To many people, the enterprise of biotechnology is a Promethean risk, another example of humanity’s self-destructive aspirations to play God… Powerful though our species has become, it is a mark of hubris to believe that we can play God.” -page 215

I thought it was interesting that the section on ethics ended with a reference to Greek mythology. Myths and storytelling have always been used to teach, warning audiences not to make the same mistakes that the characters in the story did. And by comparing genetic modification to Prometheus stealing fire, an act that was punished with being sentenced to have his liver torn out daily, Grace drives home the point that scientists need to be careful with what they use their discoveries to accomplish.
But I’d like to disagree with Grace. I don’t think it’s a sign of hubris at all, nor do I think scientists intend to play God. Hubris means great arrogance. But accomplishments made through biotechnology are hundreds of years in the making. It’s taken scientists centuries to get to where we are now, a great deal of time and effort, trial and error. And using that knowledge to make better food or cure disease doesn’t seem at all arrogant to me.

I’d also like to point out that Prometheus was not a demigod, but a Titan. According to Greek mythology, he was tasked with helping to create mankind, which is why he stole fire in the first place, as he felt responsible for helping them. A demigod is the offspring of a god and a mortal, and as mortals had not yet come into being, Prometheus couldn’t possibly have been a demigod.

Prometheus