Home > Biology > Options > Biotechnology > Biotechnology: 7. Ethical issues
9.6 Option – Biotechnology: 7. Ethical
Extract from Biology Stage 6 Syllabus (Amended
October 2002). © Board of Studies, NSW.
Prior learning: Stage 4-5, 4.8.4(a) and
H.S.C. module 9.3 Blueprint of Life (subsection 5).
Background: The use of DNA technology is
moving forward faster than any other area of biology. In many
ways it can be said that the science in this area is moving
forward faster than the moral or legal parts. Most people are
horrified by the site of a human ear growing on the back of a
mouse. So there needs to be some ethical decisions to reflect
the different views of groups within the society of humans.
evidence to identify and
ethical and social issues associated with the use of
Ethical and social issues can be discussed by looking at
different issues such as:
- economic and qualitative
The benefits from the use of the technology should not be
just economic but should include a better quality of life in
terms of health and a cleaner environment.
The use of biotechnology should be open and different
viewpoints should be respected.
- self-determination, dignity, integrity and
Self-determination of humans must be allowed to occur and
the dignity and integrity of the whole of society and the
environment should be maintained.
- just distribution of benefits and
The benefits and disadvantages are distributed fairly
between different groups in society and are not just a
benefit to one group while disadvantaging another. This
includes present and future generations.
Ethical issues are discussed widely on the Internet. The
following sites are good starting points.
Ethics: A tool for making the right decisions on technology
pig to human transplants revolutionize medicine? A report on the promises,
risks and controversy Frontline, PBS, USA
different groups in society may have different views about
the use of DNA technology
- In any area where there are ethical issues involved there
are as many different points of view as there are people to
- Different groups of people have different viewpoints
because of their cultural background and their previous
experiences. For example if you have a child with a disease
that may result in the death of the child unless DNA
technology is used you will have a different attitude to a
family who has never experienced this situation.
- For some in big business the driving force is to make
money to satisfy their shareholders. However shareholders are
people who often are concerned about ethical issues so even
satisfying the shareholders isn’t straightforward.
- Other groups, such as animal liberationists, are against
the use of animals in biotechnology without considering the
benefits that come from such research as they consider that
the welfare of the animal is paramount.
- In between there is a vast array of differing ideas
concerning the use of biotechnology. Some of these views are
based on incorrect knowledge or fear but others have those
views because they have knowledge that the ordinary consumer
does not, eg they have seen a research laboratory where
animals are not looked after adequately.
- It is important that these issues are debated in an
objective and fair way with different points of view being
able to be expressed.
ethical issues related to one of the following:
- development of genetically modified organisms
- animal cloning
- gene cloning
Development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Many genetically modified organisms are designed to be food
for human consumption. The evaluation of the ethical issues can
be decided on the arguments for and against the issues.
Some arguments for:
- Greater production of food especially for developing
countries would allow these countries to produce enough food
for their population.
- Not just the quantity of the food but also better quality
foods are produced.
- Less chemicals on crops is better for the environment so
for example if cotton can be bred that needs fewer sprays it
saves money and prevents the spray drifting into the
- Vaccines can be produced in plants for better human
- Produce may reach the consumer in better condition with
- The transgene in the products may cause allergic
reactions in people.
- Genetically identical plants and animals leads to a loss
- There has not been enough research on the effect of
inserting a gene from one species to another.
- The new species may escape into the wild populations and
super weeds could be formed by the cross-fertilisation of
wild species and transgenic species.
- Even one gene could causes major changes in an
- Business has control of the products being produced and
their motive is profit , which may not be in the best
interest of poor farmers.
- Genetic change in a species is increased.
Use the information above to evaluate the issue of GMOs and decide in your
own opinion whether the use of GMOs should be allowed.
Some good starting points
can be found on the following webpages: