Ethics plays a key role in biotechnology, which challenges boundaries of technology and biological application. A Canadian report defined ethics as:
the activity of thinking about and deciding how people ought to act in their relationships with one another, or how human institutions and activities ought to be organized. In another formulation, it is the application of moral values to factual situations in order to determine how we ought to act in those situations. (Canadian Biotechnology Strategy Task Force 1998)
The major factor driving ethics in the industry is socially acceptable use of the biotechnology to 'save or improve lives, improve the quality and abundance of food, and protect the environment' (BIO 2004).
Scientific developments in biotechnology offer significant challenges to thinking about life and the way that technology can assist life. At this stage, ethical standards are largely industry imposed, with government regulation covering particularly controversial or politically sensitive areas such as cloning, genetically modified foods or use of biodiversity. It remains to be seen whether self-regulation will continue or whether increased regulation will be brought into force. Possibly the most controversial area is in the use of stem cells from foetuses, and the increased ability for biotechnology to offer genetic testing and design for the unborn child. Such controversies are a long way from solution and likely to be inordinately effected by emotion and political expediency rather than scientific discovery.
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