The European Group on Ethics debated ethics of nanomedicine

(Nanowerk News) The European Group on Ethics debated ethics of nanomedicine with about seventy experts and stakeholder representatives, March 21, 2006 in Brussels.
Professor Ruth Duncan of Cardiff University summarized the strategy for nanomedicine developed by the EU Technology Platform on Nanomedicine and in the ESF Forward Look on Nanomedicine. She stressed the long time scale of 20-30 years and many uncertainties in the development process of new pharmaceuticals.
Professor Arie Rip of the University of Twente criticized the optimistic hype created by researchers and other promoters of nanotechnology, and advocated a new approach to develop more realistic socio-technical scenarios involving representatives of all stakeholders. He is currently responsible for a Technology Assessment project in the Dutch NanoNed research programme, doing just that.
Mary Baker of the European Patientsí Organizations stressed the need for a global partnership for development of nanomedicine in the interest of humanity.
Professor Stig Olsen of the TU Denmark reviewed the state of the art in Nanotoxicology and risk assessment research.
Nigel de Cameron of the Illinois Institute of Technology presented the debate on human enhancement in the USA. There is less optimism about improving human beings with nanomedicine than Europeans tend to believe. More conservative groups in society want nanotechnology to be applied in healing the sick, not creating cyborgs. His aim is to involve civil society in a debate on risks, ethical, legal and social aspects of nanotechnology.
The subsequent debate focused more on general science governance issues: who should be responsible for ethical development of sciences and technologies: scientists, ethicists, civil society or politicians? How can we go from a nano-hype to realistic scenarios for the future development of nanomedicine? Is the current risk management approach for nanomedicine adequate? Canít we stop popular individual scientists who experiment on themselves to test risky new technologies? The story of Professor Kevin Warwick who tested a neural implant for remote controlling a computer and for communicating intimate feelings with his wife is a case in point.
The Helsinki convention on medical experiments on humans does not cover scientists using themselves as guinea pigs. Dr Donald Bruce of the Church of Scotland strongly stressed the need to regulate such questionable practices.
We should learn from the debates on ethics of stem cells and Genetically Modified Organisms to take into account the needs of patients and other societal concerns during the whole process of nanomedicine development. This debate can be facilitated by ethicists as well as science fiction writers, according to Professor Inez de Beaufort of the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, and member of the EGE.
Several participants stressed their interest in a global stakeholder debate on the real long term implications of nanomedicine and other nanotechnologies. This debate should include the question on human nature and human dignity, as well as addressing the real needs of patients, and global justice: focusing more on the needs of people in developing countries. The European Group on Ethics will use what they learned in this debate in preparing their opinion on ethics of nanomedicine for the European Commission. This opinion will be published later this year.
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