Original Article

BioSocieties

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 24-47

First online:

The lively ethics of global health GMOs: The case of the Oxitec mosquito

  • Alex M NadingAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, Franklin & Marshall College

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Abstract

Social scientists have recently brought renewed attention to the relationship between epidemics and environmental change. Vector-borne and zoonotic diseases (for example, dengue, malaria, avian influenza) are exacerbated by disturbances to the environment, yet historically most solutions to these problems tend to involve further disturbances to environments, notably the mass destruction of non-human life (for example, pigs, sheep, cattle and insects). This article analyzes ethical debates that arose in 2010, when the British biotechnology firm Oxitec Ltd. announced a field test of a technology that would change this story: a genetically modified (GM) version of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits dengue. Designed to control mosquito populations through interbreeding, Oxitec’s mosquitoes are an example of what I call ‘global health Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)’. As both environmental interventions, like GM crops, and biomedical technologies, like pharmaceuticals, such organisms challenge not only the moral position of social scientists vis–à–vis vector-borne or zoonotic disease but also the relationship of environmental ethics to bioethics. Addressing these challenges alongside the abiding question of for-profit biotechnology’s role in global health, I suggest that global health GMOs might be assessed through a ‘lively ethics’ that emerges not in discrete regulatory spaces (‘body’, ‘nation-state’, ‘global environment’) but in more fluid ‘moral spaces’.

Keywords

bioethics GMOs dengue global health animal studies biocapital