Attitudes to Genetic Engineering

Japanese and International Comparisons

Darryl R. J. Macer, Ph.D. Eubios Ethics Institute 1992


Copyright 1992, Darryl R. J. Macer. All commercial rights reserved. This publication may be reproduced for limited educational or academic use, however please enquire with the author.

9. Conclusions and Recommendations


page 150-154 in Attitudes to Genetic Engineering: Japanese and International Comparisons D.R.J. Macer (Eubios Ethics Institute, 1992).
9.1. Warning!

As stated in the preface to this book, there are many results described from this research. There is something for everyone. It should be read as a whole, and results should not be cited out of context. Many results are internationally applicable, in addition to those being addressed to Japan. There is good and bad "news" for scientists researching genetic engineering. There are also recommendations addressed to specific government bodies, and to certain committees, as well as those addressed generally. As was also stated in the preface, people should use these results with a clear conscience. It is also hoped that these conclusions will be taken in a good spirit by all, and that criticisms and suggestions are well taken, and that it may stimulate the wider and more open discussion of these issues.

These conclusions are based on the results of the public survey described in this book, international comparisons and on discussions with many people from a wide variety of countries over these issues. It is hoped that all people can benefit from the use of genetic engineering, genetic technology and biotechnology, even if they may benefit to different degrees and in different ways.


9.2. Conclusions

The conclusions are summarised below, in five general sections. The key conclusions are presented using bold type, followed by accompanying text and data references, and notes. There is an index of tables in the front notes of this book which allows easy access reference to the page numbers.

The Public and Science

The public in many industrialised countries is interested in science and developments in science and technology. The public in Japan appears to have a relatively high level of interest in science (Figure 3-1), and a high level of awareness of specific developments of science and technology (Figure 3-2).

Many people perceive both benefits and risks from developments of science and technology (Table 3-3, Figure 3-6). Technology that touches life is perceived to be as worthwhile as technology which does not directly affect living organisms, but people may perceive more risks from technology that directly affects living organisms than from those physical science developments which do not. This is similar internationally, with genetic engineering evoking mixed emotions of benefit and risk.

Overall, most people in industrialised countries perceive more benefit than harm from science (Table 3-4) and believe that improved quality of life depends on scientific knowledge (Table 3-5, Figure 3-7).

People support more government funding of science. However, Japanese people are suspicious of safety statements made by scientists, and especially statements made by companies. They also believe that science should be regulated more to protect public safety, as do New Zealanders and people of some other countries. There is consensus that decisions about Japanese science and technology policy should not be hidden from the public (Table 8-3, Figure 8-1). Most people also believe that biotechnology should be regulated by government and industry, with input from the public and third parties (Table 8-3).

Genetic Manipulation

There is a broad consensus that genetic manipulation of plants is acceptable (Table 4-2). There is also consensus that the environmental release of disease or frost resistant plants made using genetic manipulation, providing they present very remote risks to the environment, is acceptable (Table 4-9).

There is also a broad consensus support for genetic manipulation of microorganisms, and for the environmental release of bacteria made using genetic manipulation to clean oil-spills, providing they present very remote risks to the environment (Table 4-2, 4-9).

There is widespread belief that genetic manipulation of plants and microorganisms will provide many benefits, especially for agriculture and medicine (Table 4-5, 4-6).

There is less concern about genetic manipulation of plants, than microorganisms, but there is substantially more concern about the genetic manipulation of animals and highest concern about that involving human cells (Table 4-2, 4-5, Figure 4-1, 4-3). The level of concern is higher in Japan than in New Zealand.

Japanese scientists perceive somewhat less concern than the public for genetic manipulation of human cells and animals, but they perceive a similar level of concern about genetic manipulation of plants and microorganisms. Scientists perceived more benefits from genetic manipulation of all organisms than the public. High school biology teachers perceived both significantly more risks and significantly more benefits from genetic manipulation than the public.

Respondents from all groups cited numerous and varied examples of their reasoning for acceptability of genetic manipulation (Table 4-3), and their perceived benefits (Table 4-6) and risks (Table 4-7) from genetic manipulation, and their concerns about consuming foodstuffs made from GMOs (Table 6-3).

There is more concern about the consumption of products made using genetically modified organisms in Japan than in New Zealand;. In both countries there is less concern about consumption of vegetables than about the consumption of dairy products and meat made from genetically modified organisms (Table 6-1, Figure 6-1).

Medical Genetics

There is strong support for the availability of general genetic screening tests for serious diseases under national health insurance in Japan. There is strong support for the availability of prenatal genetic screening tests under national health insurance in Japan (Table 7-1).

A majority of people said that they would personally use prenatal genetic screening tests for serious diseases, or presymptomatic genetic screening tests for fatal diseases (Table 7-1, Figure 7-1). There is less opposition to the use of genetic screening in Japan than in the USA.

A majority of Japanese people would personally undergo gene therapy for serious diseases, and there was even more support for having their children undergo gene therapy (Table 7-2).

Patenting Policy

There is public rejection of the patenting of genetic material from humans, and there are also many who reject patenting of genetic material from plants and animals. There are also many people who oppose patenting of new plant and animal varieties (Table 5-1). The area of biotechnology patent policy is contentious, and public opinion should be examined and this should influence patent policy.

Bioethics

The views of the public, students, high school biology teachers, scientists and academics in general were very similar for many questions, and the reasoning appeared to be similar. There appears to be more homogeneity in the views of these groups in Japan than there was in the results of studies conducted in New Zealand, and less education dependent difference in opinion about genetic engineering in Japan than in the USA.

There is significantly less concern about animal rights issues and the ethical issues of animal genetic manipulation in Japan than in New Zealand (Figure 4-2, Table 4-3, 4-7, 6-4).

There is a strong consensus for the inclusion of discussion of the ethical, social and environmental issues associated with genetic engineering in school and University curriculum (Table 8-6). Such discussion should include a discussion of the alternative technologies and approaches. There appears to be significantly less discussion of the social, ethical and environmental issues associated with genetic engineering in Japanese high schools than there is in New Zealand (Figure 8-4).


9.3. Recommendations

1) The Japanese public has a high level of awareness of scientific techniques in general. There is comparatively very high awareness of biotechnology in Japan, and also high awareness of genetic engineering. They may therefore be able to understand explanations of scientific research. Most people receive information via the mass media, especially the newspaper and television. The media have a large responsibility to communicate science, and scientists should also inform people about science. The media also has a responsibility to present balanced information, on the benefits and risks of alternative technology and to do this independently of commercial interests.

2) Scientists will win more public support for research by involving the public in decision-making. The public has a high level of suspicion of safety statements made by scientists, especially those involving commercial decisions. High school biology teachers and government scientists were even more suspicious. There was higher support for specific applications of genetic engineering than there was for general research, suggesting that the public will better support worthy applications of technology if they are told the details of them.

3) In the responses to many questions, the public, high school biology teachers and academics gave very similar responses. However, the Japanese public should be involved more in committees making science policy and regulating applications of science. This requires more public willingness to be involved, and the scientists and bureaucrats should allow third party and public entry to committees. Committee meetings involved in the regulation of biotechnology and genetic engineering should be open to the public. Such open decision-making would gain more public support if they were open, and openness would improve public confidence in regulators. This approach may be better at winning public support than the current approach of spending money on advertisement campaigns that could be seen as pro-biotechnology "propaganda" campaigns. Most people are already aware of the benefits of biotechnology, but they will remain concerned about decision-making that is hidden.

4) In view of the high level of suspicion by all groups of decision making and safety statements, there should be more public based groups formed, and the consolidation of such interest groups into national forums so that they have a louder voice. There is a lack of independent national groups to question the government and industry decisions in Japan compared to other industrialised countries. There should be increased public motivation to form united groups to protect the environment and to independently monitor the applications of biotechnology in agriculture, food and medicine.

5) Some areas of genetic engineering are being applied very slowly in Japan, such as the use of medical genetics in genetic screening (and gene therapy), and agricultural field releases of genetically modified organisms. Japanese people should be offered the option of using new technology in medicine and agriculture, and such applications should be made, providing internationally accepted ethical and safety standards are applied. The introduction of new techniques may even be necessary to change general patterns of ethical and social thinking, for example, the introduction of nondirective genetic counseling that is associated with genetic screening could hasten the introduction of the concept of informed consent into general medical practice.Genetic Screening;

6) The opinions expressed in the responses to the questions that allowed open response (Q7, Q8) suggest that people in Japan and in New Zealand; have very similar reasoning. These are two diverse countries. This type of research should be conducted in other countries, especially in developing countries, to better understand the reasoning of all people. We may find that people in many countries do share the same hopes and fears, and if this is so, the call for international standards will be even more strengthened.

7) There should also be examination of the view of nature that people have, so that we can find what the commonly acceptable limits to modification of nature, plant and animal varieties, and human beings are. In the modern world any new science can easily spread, so researchers are accountable to all peoples of the world. There will be future possible applications of technology which are against "common morality", yet there is little research on what is acceptable. We need to know what these perceived limits of changing nature are, before we grossly change the characters of individual organisms, or make irreversible changes to the ecosystem and human society.

It is essential that we separate parts of nature on land and ocean as nature reserves or parks, away from the parts of nature which are agricultural areas. However, while we separate these areas physically we should not separate them psychologically as areas which we can abuse and areas which we protect. This applies both in terms of sustainable environmental protection and animal rights.

8) Internationally, the area of biotechnology patent policy should be examined in light of public opinion and the principle of justice. Shared genetic resources should not be able to be owned by any one individual or company. At the same time, some patent protection for specific applications involving biotechnology need to be protected to encourage further research, and to make the results of such research immediately open for further scientific research.

9) International food safety and environmental standards should be speedily developed to ensure that all people of the world share their protection, and no country becomes a testing ground for new applications. Human rights need to be increasingly respected so that we get social progress in addition to scientific progress. All people should equally share both the benefits of new technology and the risks of its development.

10) In Japan, the discussion of bioethics is only beginning, and it is yet to become multidisciplinary or mature. Scientists need to be educated about the social and ethical impact of their research and become accountable for it. They should participate in multidisciplinary debates including the public. While environmental and medical ethics are beginning to be discussed, some other issues, such as animal rights remain unknown. Ethically speaking, there is urgent need for guidelines to be introduced to strictly regulate the experimental use of animals in Japan, as has been done in other industrialised countries. However, in all areas, law is no substitute for morality, but only a minimum standard.Law;

11) It is hoped that others will seek to repeat and improve on the approaches discussed in this book for examining the perceptions of biotechnology and genetic engineering in a wide range of countries. We need to understand that perceptions of the impacts of technology are, as they should be, more complex than simple perception of benefit or risk. The capacity to balance benefit and risk of alternative technologies, while respecting human autonomy and justice and the environment, while simultaneously being under the continual influence of commercial advertisements and media stories of varying quality and persuasion, may prove to be an important indicator of the social, and could we say, the bioethical, maturity of a society.


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