Outsourcing Ethical Limits

Written by FASPE Law Fellows: Shannon Joyce Prince and Carson Thomas

Should it be illegal for an American scientist to participate in foreign research that would be unlawful if conducted in the U.S.?  Recent news about the genome editing of two babies in China has prompted important ethical discussions in the medical and scientific community.  It has also brought attention to the practice of "ethics dumping" that raises significant legal and regulatory questions. Ethics dumping can be defined as "the carrying out by researchers from one country (usually rich, and with strict regulations) in another (usually less well off, and with laxer laws) of an experiment that would not be permitted at home."  As academic and industrial research continues to globalize, there is a danger of a regulatory race to the bottom. How should regulators balance concerns about ethics dumping against charges of ethical imperialism, whereby powerful countries impose their cultural norms onto less powerful nations?

Though one would hope that the rule of law would universally enshrine respect for human dignity, as members of the FASPE community, we know that it can and will fail to do so at time.  What, then, is the responsibility of professionals to create ethical norms for their fields that constrain their behavior regardless of policy?

Read the original article in The Economist.

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