Science is conducted by humans for humans.  It is not done in a vacuum.  Even the lone researcher working in a basement hopes to make a discovery worth sharing.  The need for ethical science shows most clearly when humans experiment on humans – with or without their consent.  Two recent articles underscore the indispensability of moral grounds for science, and a third raises questions about the source of morality.

Remember Guatemala:  According to Medical Xpress, the President’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues issued its report dealing with safeguards to minimize risk for human subjects.  The report is entitled, “Moral Science: Protecting Participants in Human Subjects Research.”  The study was prompted by the revelation last year that in 1946 to 1948, the U.S. Public Health Service exposed thousands of Guatemalans to sexually transmitted diseases without their consent.  Confident that today’s standards would never allow such an atrocity to happen, the commission recommended 14 changes to existing policies and procedures to provide additional protections.

Many experiments require human volunteers, especially in medical, social, and psychological research.  These participants should give their consent and be fully informed of the risks.  Commission chair Amy Guttman said that the Guatemala study should remind us all to never take ethics for granted.  “We must never confuse ethical principles with burdensome obstacles to be overcome or evaded,” she said.  “Good science requires good ethics, and vice versa.”

Don’t patent human embryos:  Oliver Brüstle just lost his decade-long effort to patent human embryonic stem cells in Germany.  The European Court of Justice gave its final ruling, with no appeal, declaring that “any patent depending even indirectly on human ES-cell lines is outlawed on moral grounds throughout the European Union (EU).”  According to Allison Abbott in Nature News, “Unexpectedly, it added that any research using such cell lines was similarly immoral.”  The suit against Brüstle was brought by Greenpeace, whose protestors held signs high stating, “Stoppt patente auf leben!” (Stop patents on life).

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