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Ethical Dilemmas Of Scientists in 21st Century – Top 10 List

We, humans, are eager to know about the past, present as well as future and aims to minimize suffering, increase happiness in the world as well as want to save our planet earth. These all are worthy goals, which can be achieved through Science and technology. However, we struggle with some moral dilemmas related to science in our day to day lives. Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding what is right and wrong. Dilemmas mean – a difficult situation or choice that has to be made between two different things one can do. So let’s begin our journey of Ethical Dilemmas Of Scientists in the 21st Century.

1. Should Other Creatures Be Given Equal Rights?

Human beings are considered as supreme of all the races present on earth. The power of the human brain is unbeatable by any other species on earth. These human races have certain fundamental rights which are formulated by them alone. Whether we behave good or evilly, no matter what we do, these rights cannot be taken away. But have you ever thought about animals, they are also living creatures. They also talk, walk, reproduce, have feelings and even think in their own ways. So should we give other animals fundamental rights? Some might say “No’ because we need animals for food, scientific experiments, for drug testing, for studying their behavior, for entertainment (animals in cages) and much more. What if, the animals like pigs, mice, and octopus have the right to prevent itself from being eaten by humans. What will be the consequences?

2. Should We Make Human-Animal hybrids (chimeras)?

Much progress has been made in the field of genetic engineering and a lot of research is going all around the globe. Scientists are successful in making clones, robots, and even chimeras. Not only genetically modified organisms like a mule (transgenic horse and donkey mate), but plants have also been made. Even the researches are going to a level where scientists want to make a human-animal hybrid which involves animal embryos and human stem cells. Although researchers kept it at a cellular level, still it’s a point of discussion that whether these kinds of experiments violate human dignity or not. Interspecies research might help in understanding humanity or curing diseases but we should not forget that we are creating an entirely new species. What will be its consequences?

3. Should Humans Be Allowed To Create Their Own Babies And Pets?

What if we have the right to select genome of our children or can design our own babies or pets? You all may agree as we all want our babies or pets to look not only beautiful but we want them to be strong, disease free and perfect in all possible sense. Well to some extent it is good if we have the right to edit or design our baby’s genome than we can prevent our children from an early death due to any genetic disorder.

In some countries, it has already been done where parents have the legal right to shape their children’s genome in various ways. The parent can screen their embryos during In vitro fertilization (IVF) and even abort their fetus if they find it with some disorders like Down’s syndrome. Even the powerful gene editing tool that we have with us is CRISPR. But how far we can go in this, is there any limit of our desires or do we have set any limits for ourselves.

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We humans can go to any extent and Eugenics is the answer, which is a science of human species improvement by selectively mating people with desirable hereditary traits. The aim of this science is to limit human sufferings by breeding out undesirable characters, disabilities, and diseases from human populations. This led to forced sterilizations and genocides which might be an intentional action to destroy a people in whole. The lesson we can draw from this is that let nature do it the way it does it in unchecked and without any human interference and just embrace the diversity it endeavors.

4. Should Other Planets Be Colonized By Humans?

We, humans, are very curious, we want to know everything about plants, animals, ecosystems, world and even the universe. Every day we come across some new theories, inventions, and discoveries by scientists all around the world. The curiosity to know about everything has taken us to the moon and now to other planets like Mars. Scientists are thinking of the possibility that if we can colonize other planets as well and utilize the resources present there for human welfare. So what do you think is it right to take over or colonize other planets?

There is a possibility that like we humans colonize earth, maybe there are some other creatures which are present in other planets as well. Maybe it’s just microbes or some creatures other than humans as we see in many movies- maybe they have no life at all. Some might say that there is no harm as we are part of the natural world and everything that we do is not bad and even human settlement might enhance nature. But on the other hand, we cannot deny the fact that the interference of humans in space has already resulted in space pollution which has raised a concern. There is also a possibility that the creatures or so-called aliens that might be present in other planets don’t like our interference and as we see in movies might result in human destruction after all we don’t have “Avengers” to protect us in real life. Universe has a natural way of doing things and us humans have no right to mess it up.

5. Should Extinct Species Be Brought Back From the Dead? – “de-extinction”

Scientists have provided evidence for the presence of dinosaurs, woolly mammoth (Arctic), passenger pigeon (North America), extinct aurochs (a wild ancestor of domesticated crows), the quagga (South African zebra), Galapagos tortoise and a giant flightless bird (New Zealand) through fossils study and even imagine what life was like when these animals were alive.

Nobody can deny the fact that our planet Earth is very much rich in biodiversity. New species are formed or evolved with time and some have extinct due to natural disasters, some are in the verge of extinction due to anthropogenic activities like poaching, deforestation, urbanization, and many more which is not good for our future life on earth. But what if this extinction is not permanent? What if we can bring back some of the species that we have lost? Sounds interesting and refreshing right!

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New advances in genetic engineering especially CRISPR-Cas 9 system have revolutionized science in such a way that scientists are thinking of bringing “de-extinction”. We humans always dream of a wild, untouched, nature, a kind of “Disney” version of nature from Garden of Eden to nature documentaries whereas nature, in reality, is always complex, messy and unpredictable. What if the animals we are thinking of bringing back may become uncontrolled and might result in destruction. Would it thrive in the 21st century when its habitat has been destroyed and food sources depleted? There is a risk, species would be returned only to face extinction again or, perhaps worse, become an invasive species itself and cause others to disappear. There is a whole range of really complex ecological arguments and problems to think about.

6. Should Singularity Be Brought Into Existence?

Scientists are thinking in the term that what will be the society if we all humans act in the same way, we would probably be more happy and safe as we all will think in the same way. Imagine a pill or therapy which is capable of rewiring your neural circuitry to make you more empathetic, decreases aggression, and increase happiness. People might have a different opinion on this.

A balance between happiness, sadness, anger and other emotions is being normal. But some might believe that people have an inalienable right to be themselves, the way they think, they act, provided that they do not pose an immediate risk to themselves or others. Nobody has the right to impose their thoughts or make others think in the way they want it to be.

7. Should We Let Synthetic Life Forms Loose?

With the advancement in science all around the globe, research is taking place to develop a new life that has the ability to prevent us from human-created problems like pollution to global warming. No doubt that we are doing it the welfare of our future generations but is it safe to release them in the wild?

One of the places is Biologist George Church which is synthesizing life forms that could never be formed naturally by changing genetic codes of bacterial-like E. coli to make them immune to viruses – a vast step for the drug industry. Some others are meant for farms, factories, and labs. Although scientists are taking a lot of precautions in the term that these life forms will depend on chemicals that don’t occur naturally or used by other organisms. The question is can we control these creatures, can we ensure that these forms will remain the way we want them?

In theory, it might appear that this synthetic life may or may not pose risk to humans but there is a possibility that the immune bacteria we are developing that do well in science lab could come in bacteria that wound up our body. There may be a potential risk to us and wildlife with this synthetic life.

8. Geoengineering Projects – An Attempt to Cure or Deteriorate the Earth?

Scientists are launching geoengineering projects to transform the planet which is a need for today. Planting long forests, reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, solutions for drought and desertification are some of the goals of these projects as these may help combat climate change and make it more livable.

Some of the projects are building green walls (Three-North Shelter Forest Program in China, 4,500 Km and Great Green Wall of Africa, 8,000 Km) made of indigenous vegetation and planted on the edge of deserts to rejuvenate the land. Managing solar radiations by cloud seeding, removing CO2 from the atmosphere by iron fertilization (Korean paper, 2018), reducing global temperatures (Harvard Scientists) by sending trace amount of aerosols containing sulfates seems promising but there is an array of potentially unknown harmful effects.

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Some argue humans do not completely understand the complexity of natural cycles and playing with them might cause problem rather than solving it. What if cloud seeding alters jetstreams or delays monsoon across Southeast Asia? Iron dumping in oceans destroys the fish population. Nobody for sure can make out what impact these geochemical projects might have.

9. Should 3-D printing technologies be encouraged?

3-D printing technologies have the capability to create human organs, architectural organs and improve medical treatments for conditions ranging from bone cancer, glaucoma, arthritis and hearing loss. Artificial bones from a scan of patients can be printed and replace missing and damaged bones. In the future, 3D printing technologies can be used with stem cell research for transplants of kidneys or hearts. But should this technique be used to increase the individuals capacity beyond “normal”? Like replacing existing bones with ones which are stronger and more flexible, more efficient lungs to oxygenate blood even in a polluted environment. Also as these treatments are expensive, does it mean it is available to only rich people which increases inequality in health between rich and poor. Safety is another concern. The 3D printing promises better treatment in medicine but some moral issues raised should not be neglected.

10. Should We Stop Doing Science?

No doubt scientific research has lead to benefits and advances in curing diseases, reshaping planets, improving crop yields and lives of some if not all. We are all gainers but at what direction we are taking science. Development of Bioware weapons, disgraceful research such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiments on Americans and African. Even certain accidents have been reported in the past such as the release of smallpox in Birmingham, UK (1978), so what is the ethical thing to do? Should we quit at this point when we are ahead? We have extensive knowledge surely but it is important to understand that what we are capable of doing and what we should do.

Science has given us the power to do miracles in different fields for the welfare of humans, other creatures, and much more beyond our imagination. Scientists need more scientific data, models, to understand these processes than only we can get answers for these questions. Such Ethical Dilemmas will keep appearing for Scientists now & in future. What matters is how it is perceived, judged & Managed efficiently for the betterment of the Human race. Asking the right questions is the solution to all the problems in this world.

About the Author
Dr.Tanushree is an expert in the technology of Biosciences. She has an interest in various domains like Plant Science, Molecular techniques and Cell Biology. Through her research and teaching, she is contributing to the development of many young minds. She will be penning more such valuable articles in the future as well.
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Shekhar Suman is the CEO & Managing Director of BioTecNika Info Labs Pvt Ltd, An avid reader who is passionate about Bio Sciences and has gifted us BioTecNika