Responsible Learning About Risks Arising from Emerging Biotechnologies

Science and Engineering Ethics 27 (2):1-20 (2021)
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Abstract

Genetic engineering techniques have led to an increase in biotechnological developments, possibly leading to uncertain risks. The European Union aims to anticipate these by embedding the Precautionary Principle in its regulation for risk management. This principle revolves around taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty and provides guidelines to take precautionary measures when dealing with important values such as health or environmental safety. However, when dealing with ‘new’ technologies, it can be hard for risk managers to estimate the societal or environmental consequences of a biotechnology that might arise once introduced or embedded in society due to that these sometimes do not comply with the established norms within risk assessment. When there is insufficient knowledge, stakeholders active in early developmental stages could provide necessary knowledge by conducting research specifically devoted to what these unknown risks could entail. In theory, the Safe-by-Design approach could enable such a controlled learning environment to gradually identify what these uncertain risks are, to which we refer as responsible learning. In this paper, we argue that three conditions need to be present to enable such an environment: regulatory flexibility, co-responsibility between researchers and regulators, and openness towards all stakeholders. If one of these conditions would not be present, the SbD approach cannot be implemented to its fullest potential, thereby limiting an environment for responsible learning and possibly leaving current policy behind to anticipate uncertain risks.

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Lotte Asveld
Delft University of Technology

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