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Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine: An International Journal

ISSN Print: 2151-805X
ISSN Online: 2151-8068

Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine: An International Journal

DOI: 10.1615/EthicsBiologyEngMed.2013007629
pages 59-72

The Ethics of Global Catastrophic Risk from Dual-Use Bioengineering

Seth D. Baum
Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, Seattle, WA 98145
Grant S. Wilson
Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, Seattle, WA 98145

ABSTRACT

Global catastrophic risks (GCRs) are risks of events that could significantly harm or even destroy civilization at the global scale. GCR raises a number of profound ethical issues, with a range of ethical theories suggesting that GCR reduction should be society's top priority. In this article, we discuss GCR ethics in the context of dual-use bioengineering, that is, bioengineering that can cause either benefit or harm, including increases and decreases in GCR. Advances in bioengineering offer great promise, but they also introduce new perils. Key ethical questions include what phenomena hold intrinsic value and how the phenomena are valued across space and time. Another key question is how decisions about bioengineering risks should be made. The global scope of bioengineering and GCR suggests a role for international law. Bioengineering does not fall neatly within existing international regimes such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, Cartagena Protocol, and Biological Weapons Convention. An international regime with comprehensive coverage of bioengineering would help address dual-use bioengineering as it relates to GCR.