Editorial - New Year Greetings

- Darryl Macer, Ph.D.

Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba Science City, 305, JAPAN

Eubios Ethics Institute Newsletter 3 (1993), 1.


Firstly, a thank you to the growing number of subscribers to this newsletter. The newsletter appears to be reaching a growing audience, thus achieving part of its goal of being an information and news source. It would be desirable to have more contributions, and more communication between readers in different countries.

In this edition there are two conference reports, and several letters. Letters come from readers in India, Israel and Japan. The topics include surrogacy, infanticide and cross-cultural bioethics. At the end of this newsletter is the beginning of a list of bioethics centres, that will accumulate throughout the year. Please send additions and omissions.

In the last newsletter I mentioned a commentary I wrote called "The Far East of biological ethics", in Nature 359 (29 October), 770. I hope that this was taken in a constructive way by readers - and of course the views may be also appropriate to some other countries also. If you are more interested in learning more of the situation in Japan, and of joining in an international discussion you are invited to join in a forthcoming seminar and workshop - 19-21 Nov, in Fukui, Japan. A preliminary announcement is in this issue, the details will be available early next year.

Part of this seminar will be a workshop, which will consider international attitudes and policy concerning the question of what is a disease and what is not? Where do we draw the line between therapy and enhancement? What are neurological disorders and what is merely failing to meet the expectations of society or ourselves? Anyone interesting in participating in this international project - which will involve free response and set question opinion surveys throughout 1993 in different countries - should contact me (by mid-January if possible).


Third International Bioethics Seminar in Fukui, on Neurological Disorders and Society

19-21 November, 1993 at Phoenix Plaza, Fukui. The proposed outline will include sessions on:
19th 9 a.m. - 1.p.m. 1. Can we clearly define neurological disorders?
19th 2 p.m. - 6 p.m. 2. Counseling
20th 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. 3. Population screening
20th 2 p.m. - 6 p.m. 4. Prevention and Therapy: What future for society?
21st :Workshop: Genetics and Neurological Disorders in a Global Society

a.m. Discussion of seminar and results of international comparisons on attitudes and policy to neurological disorders and the disease/non-disease question in genetic screening and therapy

p.m. Preparing summary of seminar, Future international cooperative research?

In each session of the seminar there will be about 1 hour for discussion; following 6 speakers and one respondent. Speakers will be multidisciplinary. The language will be English with no-simultaneous translation facility. Scientists will be asked to give examples of clinical dilemmas - the focus will be on bioethics.

Seminar Secretariate
Conference Chairperson: Prof. Norio Fujiki
Dept. of Internal Medicine & Medical Genetics, Fukui Medical School, Matsuokacho, Fukui, 910-11, JAPAN
FAX Int+81-776-61-8110

Workshop Project on Genetic Disorders in a Global Society.

It is planned to conduct some international opinion surveys on attitudes to disease/non-disease, therapy versus enhancement, ideas about handicap and heredity during the time before the workshop. International comparisons will be made, and some papers precirculated to people before the seminar. Questionnaire is still to be developed - expect to complete it in January and February, with comments from participants.
Contact: Dr. Darryl Macer, Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305, JAPAN
FAX Int+81-298-53-6614

Sponsors

The Seminar will be held under the auspices of the ELSI Group in the Study Group on Human Genome Research, sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Japan.

Cosponsors: Fukui Medical School, International Association of Human Biologists (IAHB), Japan branch of the Universal Movement for Scientific Responsibility (MURS), WHO, UNESCO, EC, HUGO Japan, HUGO Ethics Committee, CIOMS, French Embassy, National Science Foundation, Japan Foundation, and several private foundations.


Conference Reviews: US-Japan Biotechnology in Agriculture

On the 27-28 October the Seventh Annual Japan-US Agriculture Conference was held, entitled "The role of Biotechnology in Global Food production: American and Japanese Perspectives". It was organised by the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs and the Japan International Agriculture Council. The presentations were interesting, on the subjects of the potential of biotechnology were presentations by F. Tomita, N. Tsuru, W.J. Brill and C. Arntzen. Among the most interesting research described was research in Prof. Arntzen's laboratory to engineer hepatitis vaccines into lettuces and bananas as edible vaccines. Such vaccines would be cheap sources - though one might still want to regulate the places where such crops are planted within individual countries for future fear of "genetic pollution" (a term suggested by Prof. K.E. Tranoy in Norway in a recent letter concerning the debate in Norway over genetically engineered salmon). Given the need for cheap vaccines and the many problems of infectious diseases such approaches should be supported.

The burden of regulations on field releases of microorganisms was stressed as the main delay in introducing the wider use of microorganisms to boost agricultural production. The Environmental Protection Agency in the USA was criticised for attempting to apply inappropriate ideas from chemical releases to microbes. In the later section on "Field trials of GMOs" see the news on the relaxed USDA guidelines for GMO release. Also at this conference, T.L. Medley from the USDA outlined the approaches being used in the USDA. In the USDA the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has issued 327 permits for field tests of GMOs at 700 sites in 37 States and Puerto Rico, using 21 different species. J. Kato presented views on conflict and cooperation in Japan. K. Ono described the changes in international intellectual property protection, which may soon be enacted if this round of GATT reaches agreement. R. Beachy described research programmes aimed at aiding researchers from developing countries, by applying existing plant genetic engineering to common crops and plants of developing countries.

A special session featured addresses by I. Watanabe and J. Watson, with H. Harada moderating. The views of Watanabe and Watson were similar in that they were both reductionist, thinking that DNA was the start of all life. One can only remember that scientists when speaking as scientists have authority, but when they speak as philosophers they lose that authority - however, they themselves and the public may not realise that. Watson went on to a more interesting discussion of bioethical issues. He said he lost his job as director of the NIH Genome Project because he disagreed with the patenting of cDNA fragments - and he had only found two people, B. Healy (NIH director) and lawyer C. Adler, who agreed with that policy. He called it an embarrassment for America.

Although one of the themes of the conflict was to look at ethical issues, these were not touched much, except by part of Watson's talk. However, examples of how to aid research in developing countries were given by some speakers, which was also good. Regulatory barriers to biotechnology in agriculture in Japan remain a major problem for the expansion of research here, but perhaps one can expect a change in attitude as products of GMOs, like the Flavr Savr tomato, are eaten in the USA and other countries, and as they begin to be imported to Japan.


Symposium Review: One Future World. Long-term Policies of Energy and Environment - The Role of Japan and Germany

A symposium was held Nov 17-18 in Tokyo including Japanese and German speakers, and a mainly Japanese audience. There were clearly some contrasting images presented, including those between Japanese and German speakers when it came to practical issues and targets. Although in talk everyone has learnt how to talk "Green", there is still an often vast gap between words and practical plans. Readers may refer to a paper in EEIN 2 (July 1992), 54-55 by H. Krupp on "Why Rio failed", for some background on economic growth and environment concerns. The symposium was organised by Prof. Helmar Krupp and Prof. Kei Takeuchi.

One of the main themes was on how much economic growth or growth in living standards (which may be a better measure) should be aimed at for the next 20-30 years. Japan wants to achieve 3.5% economic growth over the next 20 years. However, can industrialised countries expect people to stop economic growth in 20 years, reducing it to a low level which would give more environmental stability or sustainability? Once you increase people's expectations and lifestyle you cannot take things away, like toys once you give to children you cannot take them away easily. The danger of high economic growth is that there will an overshoot - which will be a waste of energy and excess pollution.

Some argued that new technology is required, which requires new economic growth. However, what is required is lifestyle change and application and transfer of technology we already know. Further technology will be developed with existing research resources, but will they be applied? If we cannot apply what we know today, can we expect us, or descendents to apply technology and lifestyle change in the future? Perhaps as the environment decays even further the urgency will become stronger - though of course the effects will be much greater and the stabilisation time and the state of the future world, very much worse. The idea is like making the mess bigger to justify the need for more advanced technology to clean it up.

The implications of the Rio accords and summit were discussed. However, the impact depends on the willingness of governments around the world to take action and make policy change. Japan and Germany could play the role of leaders of policy change within the global community if they wish to. Unless the USA introduces higher gas taxes they will continue to consume disproportionate amounts of energy and produce an unfair amount of pollution such as carbon dioxide, and it will make other countries resistant to change. However, German speakers also stressed that energy saving also saves money. Another possibility would be for OPEC countries to introduce a carbon tax on crude oil, but they appear to resist the idea. Germans suggested that a complete switch to carbon-based taxation systems and consumption taxes was possible and desirable. However, ethically we still have the problem that rich can afford to buy more resources and pollute more - which is unjust (EEIN 1: 43-4).

Japanese policy is switching to dependence on nuclear power generation, to avoid importing energy. Recently we can see the plutonium shipment from France to Japan, as only a beginning of an expansion plan. However, there is a reasonable amount of local opposition to nuclear power in Japan, and despite the government pro-nuclear campaign it remains to be seen whether they will actually be able to build many more power stations.


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