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Ethics: a weapon to counter bioterrorism

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[English] 25/03/2005
Auteur / source : Margaret A. Somerville and Ronald M. Atlas

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine
Founding Director of the Faculty of Law's Centre for Medicine,
Ethics and Law at McGill University

Advances in the life sciences, especially in molecular biology and informatics, and the potential for misuse of scientific research (the "dual-use" dilemma) raise the possibility that an act of terrorism could involve biological agents. International consensus is crucial on the steps needed to reduce this grave threat to humanity. One such step is to ensure that all people and institutions involved in science are aware of their ethical obligations.

An important way to promote the necessary international consensus and to raise the necessary awareness is through adoption of a code of ethics to govern research in the life sciences. It is with this thought that we set out to capture the critical elements that a code of ethics for the life sciences should include--one that we believe can help prevent the life sciences from becoming the death sciences.

The code we propose is built on ethically relevant facts and the substantive and procedural principles of ethics that must govern its interpretation and application. They include nonmaleficence; beneficence; respect for life, especially human life; maintaining trust; embedding ethics in science; establishing a high ethical tone in institutions; acknowledging individual and collective responsibilities; and recognizing and fulfilling needs for ethics review and monitoring, notification of breaches of ethics, ethics education, and the transmission of ethical values to colleagues and those we mentor.