Evaluating Oversight Systems for Emerging Technologies: A Case Study of Genetically Engineered Organisms

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 37 (4):546-586 (2009)
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Abstract

The U.S. oversight system for genetically engineered organisms was evaluated to develop hypotheses and derive lessons for oversight of other emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology. Evaluation was based upon quantitative expert elicitation, semi-standardized interviews, and historical literature analysis. Through an interdisciplinary policy analysis approach, blending legal, ethical, risk analysis, and policy sciences viewpoints, criteria were used to identify strengths and weaknesses of GEOs oversight and explore correlations among its attributes and outcomes. From the three sources of data, hypotheses and broader conclusions for oversight were developed. Our analysis suggests several lessons for oversight of emerging technologies: the importance of reducing complexity and uncertainty in oversight for minimizing financial burdens on small product developers; consolidating multi-agency jurisdictions to avoid gaps and redundancies in safety reviews; consumer benefits for advancing acceptance of GEO products; rigorous and independent pre- and post-market assessment for environmental safety; early public input and transparency for ensuring public confidence; and the positive role of public input in system development, informed consent, capacity, compliance, incentives, and data requirements and stringency in promoting health and environmental safety outcomes, as well as the equitable distribution of health impacts. Our integrated approach is instructive for more comprehensive analyses of oversight systems, developing hypotheses for how features of oversight systems affect outcomes, and formulating policy options for oversight of future technological products, especially nanotechnology products

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