Ethics and the Dual-Use Dilemma in the Life Sciences
The “dual-use dilemma” arises in the context of research in the biological and other sciences as a consequence of the fact that one and the same piece of scientific research sometimes has the potential to be used for evil as well as for good. Consider as an example of this kind of dilemma recent research on the mousepox virus.3 On the one hand, the research program on the mousepox virus should have been pursued since it may well have led to a genetically engineered sterility treatment that would have helped combat periodic plagues of mice in Australia. On the other hand, this research project should not have been pursued since it led to the creation of a highly virulent strain of mousepox and the possibility of the creation-by, say, a terrorist group contemplating a biological attack-of a highly virulent strain of smallpox able to overcome available vaccines.
A dual-use dilemma is an ethical dilemma, and an ethical dilemma for the researcher (and for those who have the power or authority to assist or impede the researcher’s work, e.g., governments). It is an ethical dilemma since it is about promoting good in the context of the potential for also causing harm, e.g. the promotion of health in the context of providing the wherewithal for the killing of innocents. It is an ethical dilemma for the researcher not because he or she is aiming at anything other than a good outcome; typically, the researcher intends no harm, but only good. Rather, the dilemma arises for the researcher because of the potential actions of others. Malevolent non-researchers might steal dangerous biological agents produced by the researcher; alternatively, other researchers-or at least their governments or leadership-might use the results of the original researcher’s work for malevolent purposes. The malevolent purposes in question include bio-terrorism, bio-warfare and blackmail for financial gain.
KeywordsBiological Science Ethical Dilemma Secondary User Terrorist Group Criminal Organisation
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- Altman, Lawrence. 2005. WHO Moves Toward Allowing Smallpox Gene Experiment. New York Times (21 May 2005): A6.Google Scholar
- King, Jonathan and Harlee Strauss. 1990. The Hazards of Defensive Biological Warfare Programs. In Preventing a Biological Arms Race, ed. Susan Wright, 123. Cambridge, MA: MIT.Google Scholar
- Marshall, Joshua Micah. 2004. Known Stocks of the Smallpox Virus Should Be Retained for Research. In Biological Warfare: Opposing Viewpoints, ed. William Dudley, 192–197. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven.Google Scholar
- Miller, Seumas and Michael Selgelid. 2006. Ethical and Philosophical Consideration of the Dual-Use Dilemma in the Biological Sciences. Canberra: Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (An Australian Research Council funded Special Research Centre), Australian National University and Charles Sturt University.Google Scholar
- National Research Council. 2004. Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism. Washington, DC: National Academies of Science.Google Scholar
- Tucker, Jonathan B. 2001. Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.Google Scholar
- US Department of Health and Human Services. 21 July 2004. Fact Sheet. HHS Fact Sheet Project Bioshield. http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2004pres/20040721b.html. Cited 27 June 2006.
- World Health Organisation Media Release. 20 May 2005. Establishing Smallpox Vaccine Reserve. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/notes/2005/np_wha02/en/index.html. Cited 10 June 2005.
- Wright, Susan. November/December 2004. Taking Biodefense Too Far.Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. http://www.thebulletin.org/issues/2004/nd04/nd04wright.html. Cited 1 November 2004.