Bioscience Policies

Abstract

The rapid pace of change in the biosciences makes setting biotechnology policies and regulating the life sciences difficult for governments, but no less necessary. Although government policies around the globe are sometimes classed as ‘pro‐science’ or ‘anti‐science’, that is a misleading oversimplification. Nurturing the ‘bioeconomy’ is a key goal for most national governments, leading in the United Kingdom to a comparatively loose regulatory policy, for example, in relation to mitochondrial transfer and germline genetic modification. But in genetic patenting, a recent US court decision has reversed the trend towards privatisation of the human genome, which many scientists perceived as impeding their research. Opposition to permissive regulatory policies thus often comes not only from civic or religious groups but also from within bioscience itself. In the area of vaccination against infectious disease, governments face an additional challenge from pandemics at the same time that financial austerity has prompted cutbacks in public health funding.

Key Concepts

  • It is an oversimplification to divide government policies into ‘pro‐science’ or ‘anti‐science’ categories.
  • Governments are under pressure to promote the ‘bioeconomy’ but must not ignore ethical dilemmas or permit new developments uncritically.
  • Scientists and the general public have formed surprising alliances in favour of greater transparency in intellectual property and against permissive patent laws that may actually impede rather than benefit science.
  • In addition to government, civic bodies and individual researchers, we need to examine the role of the private biosciences sector in lobbying for particular policies.
  • Religious groups are not the only source of opposition to some new scientific developments, and the so‐called ‘war’ between science and religion diverts our attention from other more important issues such as the commodification of bioscience.
  • Government bioscience policy on vaccination needs to address social issues of public safety and equality, not just individual autonomy to choose or reject immunisation.

Keywords: bioscience policy; bioeconomy; genetic patenting; reproductive technologies; mitochondrial transfer; germline genetic modification; vaccination; pandemics

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Further Reading

Almeling R (2011) Sex Cells: The Medical Market for Eggs and Sperm. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Annas G (2010) Worst Case Bioethics: Death, Disaster and Public Health. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Dickenson D (2012) Bioethics: All That Matters. London: Hodder Education.

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Dickenson, Donna L(Feb 2015) Bioscience Policies. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0025087]