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A precautionary principle for dual use research in the life sciences
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-7486-4678
2011 (English)In: Bioethics, ISSN 0269-9702, E-ISSN 1467-8519, Vol. 25, no 1, 1-8 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Most life science research entails dual-use complexity and may be misused for harmful purposes, e.g. biological weapons. The Precautionary Principle applies to special problems characterized by complexity in the relationship between human activities and their consequences. This article examines whether the principle, so far mainly used in environmental and public health issues, is applicable and suitable to the field of dual-use life science research. Four central elements of the principle are examined: threat, uncertainty, prescription and action. Although charges against the principle exist - for example that it stifles scientific development, lacks practical applicability and is poorly defined and vague - the analysis concludes that a Precautionary Principle is applicable to the field. Certain factors such as credibility of the threat, availability of information, clear prescriptive demands on responsibility and directives on how to act, determine the suitability and success of a Precautionary Principle. Moreover, policy-makers and researchers share a responsibility for providing and seeking information about potential sources of harm. A central conclusion is that the principle is meaningful and useful if applied as a context-dependent moral principle and allowed flexibility in its practical use. The principle may then inspire awareness-raising and the establishment of practical routines which appropriately reflect the fact that life science research may be misused for harmful purposes.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2011. Vol. 25, no 1, 1-8 p.
Keyword [en]
precautionary principle, dual use, life science, research, responsibility, biological weapons
National Category
Medical and Health Sciences
Research subject
Bioethics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-124826DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2009.01740.xISI: 000286070300002PubMedID: 19594724OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-124826DiVA: diva2:318039
Available from: 2010-05-06 Created: 2010-05-06 Last updated: 2017-12-12
In thesis
1. Responsible Conduct in Dual Use Research: Towards an Ethic of Deliberation in the Life Sciences
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Responsible Conduct in Dual Use Research: Towards an Ethic of Deliberation in the Life Sciences
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Life scientists have increasingly been asked to incorporate a dual use responsibility in their research conduct. In this thesis, different aspects of what constitutes a reasonable responsibility in terms of avoiding harmful misuse of research for biological weapon purposes have been explored.

The first study investigated the claim that scientists have a dual use responsibility, and also outlined some of its possible content. Criteria for what may constitute preventable harm were used to analyze some proposed obligations in the field, and it was concluded that reasonable obligations include: e.g. considering the potential negative implications of one’s research and reporting activities of concern. In the second study, the conditions for a Precautionary Principle (PP) were explored and applied to the dual use research context. The study found that the main conditions of the PP frequently appear in present discussions and formulations of life scientists’ responsibility. It was also concluded that the PP is applicable to the dual use field and that it is meaningful and useful as a normatively guiding principle. The third study suggested an ethics of dissemination, based on the assumption that scientists have a responsibility to occasionally constrain the dispersion of their research findings. Three core aspects were proposed for an ethics of dual use dissemination. Additionally, to help scientists understand when constraints may be justified, three corresponding conditions for their application were suggested. In the fourth study, the concept of ethical competence was introduced and explored within a dual use context. It was concluded that competence-building is important in the nurturing of individual responsibility and, subsequently, in achieving a culture of dual use responsibility in the life sciences.

Finally, the discussion on ethical competence was included in a proposed ethic of deliberation, in which various stakeholders in the dual use debate are conceived to participate in communicative processes. It was argued that spaces for deliberative activities should be institutionalized by the scientific community to ensure structural opportunities for individuals to both assume responsibility and share it. Moreover, it was argued that deliberation can constitute a cornerstone of responsible dual use governance.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2013. 95 p.
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Medicine, ISSN 1651-6206 ; 866
Keyword
bioethics, biological warfare, biological weapons, biosecurity, communicative ethics, deliberative ethics, dual use, ethical competence, life science research, precautionary principle, responsible conduct
National Category
Medical Ethics
Research subject
Bioethics
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-193050 (URN)978-91-554-8593-1 (ISBN)
Public defence
2013-03-23, Auditorium Minus, Gustavianum, Akademigatan 3, Uppsala, 09:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2013-03-01 Created: 2013-01-28 Last updated: 2013-03-05Bibliographically approved

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Kuhlau, FridaHöglund, Anna T.Evers, KathinkaEriksson, Stefan

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