Tech research: Should U.S. study societal implications?

Desire to advance should not go 'unbridled'

As medical scientists and engineers in the health care arena pursue advances in drugs and technologies, is now the time to think more critically about these new technologies and how to address future implications — for say, the ramifications of genetic screening and designer babies?

According to Marc D. Hiller, DrPH, of the Department of Health Management and Policy in the College of Health and Human Services at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH, those questions are "here, and they're increasing."

"One of the arguments I have long made, and I'm not alone . . . is that the yearning, or the unbridled desire for scientific advancement should not necessarily go unbridled without a complementary consideration or thinking about what the ethical and social implications might be, for whatever that advancement might bring," Hiller tells Medical Ethics Advisor.

"In other words, from a pure scientific point of view, I am driven to generate new knowledge, make advances, and discover new things," he explains. "But historically, we've not concurrently invested in trying to think through and critically examine what the implications might be of the advances that we're making," he says.

Hiller says he isn't suggesting that those advances not be made, "because we all stand to potentially benefit from many of them, but at the same time, we haven't historically invested time, energy, [or] dollars into that kind of thinking."

Hiller suggests that both public and private organizations that invest funding in research require that a certain percentage of the money invest be apportioned to studying the social and ethical implications of the research.

"If the bench scientist isn't the person who wants to spend his or her time thinking about it, then allow them to work collaboratively with people whose career paths or expertise is engaged in wrestling with these issues," he says.

Hiller notes that this is much easier to suggest than to actualize.

"But in the same context, I would argue that we bear as a society a degree of social responsibility to engage in that thinking process much earlier than we do [when] we wrestle with these questions retrospectively," Hiller says.

Source

  • Marc D. Hiller, DrPH, of the Department of Health Management and Policy in the College of Health and Human Services at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH. E-mail: marc.hiller@unh.edu.