Publication Title

Medicine and Law


biotechnology, conflict of interest, ethics, global health

Document Type



Biotechnology, whether in the context of new drugs derived from DNA and genetic technology, genetically modified food, or biologics making use of living cells, raises ethical concerns at a variety of different levels. At the research level, there is concern that the very nature of research is being subverted, rather than enhanced, by entrepreneurship. This area of ethical concern has intensified in the United States as a result of the conflicts of interests resulting from the growing alliance between University academia and private industry in the research enterprise. As we travel down the research path into development of a drug or technology, ethical questions arise with respect to protecting human subjects and society from danger and exploitation by researchers. As development gives way to marketing and dissemination of a new product, government regulators are pressed to get drugs and biologics through the regulatory pipeline into the market faster, walking an ethical tightrope between speed and safety. As new biotechnology products enter the market place, doctors and patients traverse yet another tightrope, that between unknown risk and the promise of benefit. And finally, patent protection is increasingly viewed as a unethical culprit in keeping prices high and depriving the global poor from lifesaving drugs and biologics. Bioethics has, to date, been largely a creation of Western research and medicine. As such it is wholly inadequate to respond to the cascade of ethical issues that flow from a vibrant biotechnology industry. And if biotechnology is in its infancy, as most believe, it is crucial that scientists, entrepreneurs and governments engage in dialogue about the ethical and societal questions raised on the road of scientific progress.

Note: Posted with the permission of the World Association for Medical Law and the journal, Medicine and Law.



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