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Synthetic Biology: The Response of the Commission of the (Catholic) Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community

  • PATRICK HEAVEY
Abstract:

The Commission of the (Catholic) Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) has issued an opinion on the ethics of synthetic biology (synbio). Examining synbio from religious and more general ethical perspectives, it examines synbio’s potential pros and cons, as well as whether it is ethical in and of itself. Its conclusions mirror those of the ethical mainstream; namely, that synbio may present humanity with opportunities for both great advancement and great destruction. It suggests a prudent approach, and calls for regulation to be used to encourage positive outcomes while reducing the likelihood of negative ones.

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Notes

1. Pronounced “com-ay-say,” the acronym stands for Commissio Episcopatuum Communitatis Europaeae; in Latin, the official language of the Church. Their website is www.comece.eu (last accessed 30 July 2016).

2. COMECE. Opinion of the Reflection Group on Bioethics on Synthetic Biology. Brussels: COMECE, 2016; available at http://www.comece.eu/dl/qsMsJKJKooNmJqx4KJK/SyntheticBIO_EN.pdf (last accessed 30 July 2016).

3. COMECE: Who We Are; available at http://www.comece.eu/site/en/whoweare (last accessed 30 July 2016).

4. According to the Vatican yearbook, Annuario Pontificio 2016, the Catholic population is growing at a faster rate than the rest, and currently stands at approximately 1,270,000,000. See Esteves JO. Vatican statistics report increase in baptized Catholics worldwide. National Catholic Reporter, March 7, 2016; available at https://www.ncronline.org/news/vatican/vatican-statistics-report-increase-baptized-catholics-worldwide (last accessed 30 July 2016).

5. Church of Scotland, Church and Society Council. Synthetic Biology. Edinburgh: Church of Scotland; 2010; §11.4.6; available at http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/3793/synthetic_biology_report.pdf (last accessed 30 July 2016).

6. Singer P. Scientists playing God will save lives. The Guardian, June 13, 2010; available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jun/13/science-playing-god-climate-change (last accessed 30 July 2016).

7. European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies in the European Commission (EGE). Ethics of Synthetic Biology, Opinion No. 25, November 2009; available at https://www.erasynbio.eu/lw_resource/datapool/_items/item_15/ege__opinion25_en.pdf (last accessed July 30, 2016).

8. See note 7, European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies in the European Commission 2009, at 1.3.

9. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 3.

10. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 3.

11. Synbiology. An Analysis of Synthetic Biology Research in Europe and North America. Final Report on Analysis of Synthetic Biology Sector, September 2006; available at http://www2.spi.pt/synbiology/documents/news/D11%20-%20Final%20Report.pdf (last accessed 30 July 2016); quoted in COMECE; see note 2, COMECE 2016, at 4.

12. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 4–5.

13. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 5.

14. Parliamentary Office for Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Options Presentation, OPECST, France. Les Enjeux de la Biologie de Synthèse, 2012, at 199–200; available at http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/13/pdf/rap-off/i4354-tii.pdf (last accessed 23 July 2016); quoted in COMECE; see note 2, COMECE 2016, at 6.

15. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 6.

16. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 7.

17. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 7.

18. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana; 2004; §460; available at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/justpeace/documents/rc_pc_justpeace_doc_20060526_compendio-dott-soc_en.html#Lenvironnement,%20un%20bien%20collectif (last accessed 30 July 2016). Quoted in COMECE; see note 2, COMECE 2016, at 8.

19. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 8.

20. Pope John-Paul II. Message for World Day for Peace; January 1, 1990; §6. This passage is quoted by Pope Francis in his Encyclical Laudato Si, May 24, 2015; in COMECE; see note 2, COMECE 2016, at 8.

21. See note 18, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace 2004, §473; quoted in COMECE; see note 2, COMECE 2016, at 8.

22. See note 18, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace 2004, §473; quoted in COMECE; see note 2, COMECE 2016, at 8.

23. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 8.

24. See note 18, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace 2004, §466; quoted in COMECE; see note 2, COMECE 2016, at 9.

25. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 9.

26. Secretariat on the Convention on Biological Diversity. Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Montreal: Secretariat on the Convention on Biological Diversity; 2000; available at https://www.cbd.int/doc/legal/cartagena-protocol-en.pdf (last accessed 30 July 2016); in COMECE; see note 2, COMECE 2016, at 9.

27. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 9.

28. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 9.

29. Pope Francis. Laudato Si, 2015; §133 and §134; available at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html (last accessed 30 July 2106); quoted in COMECE; see note 2, COMECE 2016, at 9.

30. See note 2; COMECE 2016, at 10.

31. See note 7, European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies in the European Commission 2009, at 4.5.2; quoted in COMECE; see note 2, COMECE 2016, at 12.

32. Pope John Paul II. Centesimus Annus, 1991; quoted in COMECE; See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 12.

33. COMECE Bioethics Reflexion Group. Patentability of human stem cells. Science et Ethique, 2008, at 29; available at www.comece.eu/dl/ppmuJKJOMOkJqx4KJK/20080601PUBIOVOL1_EN.pdf (last accessed 30 July 2016).

34. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 12–3.

35. Directive 98/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 1998, Article 2; in COMECE; see note 2, COMECE 2016, at 13.

36. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 13.

37. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 13.

38. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 14

39. Rai AK, Kumar S. Synthetic biology: the intellectual property puzzle. Texas Law Review 2007;85:1745–68.

40. Rai, A, Boyle, J. Synthetic biology: caught between property rights, the public domain, and the commons. PLoS Biology 2007;5(3):389–93.

41. European Patent Office. Scenarios for the Future: How Might IP Regimes Evolve by 2025? What Global Legitimacy Might Such Regimes Have? Munich: EPO; 2007.

42. Groupe de Projet PIETA (Prospective de la Propriete Intellectuelle pour l’ETAt Strategie). System de Propriete Intellectuelle Pour la France d’ici 2020? Paris: Comissariat General du Plan; 2006; available at http://breese.blogs.com/pi/files/Rapport_PIETA_2006.pdf (last accessed 30 July 2016).

43. See note 2, COMECE 2016, 14.

44. Pope Francis. Laudato Si, May 24, 2015; §135; available at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html (last accessed 30 July 2016).

45. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 14.

46. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 15.

47. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 15.

48. For example, genetic engineers imposed a moratorium on genetic engineering research, until it could be proven safe; at the Asilomar Conference. More recently, CRISPR researchers imposed a moratorium on its application in clinical research; see Wade N. Scientists seek moratorium on edits to human genome that could be inherited. New York Times, December 3, 2015; available at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/04/science/crispr-cas9-human-genome-editing-moratorium.html (last accessed 10 October 2016).

49. See note 2, COMECE 2016, at 16.

50. Heavey P. The place of God in synthetic biology: how will the Catholic Church respond? Bioethics 2011;27:36–47.

51. Rizzo A. Vatican: Scientists shouldn’t play God: but Church officials say synthetic cell could have benefits. Associated Press, May 21, 2010; available at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37285047/ns/technology_and_science-science (last accessed 30 July 2016).

52. Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana; 2000:§2293; available at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM (last accessed 30 July 2016).

53. See note 52, Catholic Church 2000, at §2294.

54. See note 5, Church of Scotland 2010.

55. See note 5, Church of Scotland 2010.

56. Wolpe PR. Religious perspectives on synbio. In: Ethics of Synthetic Biology Part 1: Presentation to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues July 9, 2010; available at: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/294437-1 (last accessed 31 July 2016).

57. Heavey P. Synthetic biology ethics: a deontological assessment. Bioethics 2013;27:442–52.

58. Glick, S. Synthetic biology: a Jewish view. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 2012;55:571–80.

59. See note 50, Heavey 2011.

60. Not all Catholics will agree with the Church’s position. For example, an interesting opposing article (not peer-reviewed and with several factual errors) is Mejia DE. The moral and ethical concerns of synthetic biology: the reasons why we should stop. Seton Hall Law School Student Scholarship 2016, at 767; available at http://scholarship.shu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1761&context=student_scholarship (last accessed 30 July 2016). It should be noted that the Church’s teaching bodies have religious authority for Catholics, and represent the Church’s position to all. Other Catholics do not have authority to speak for the Church, but are required to follow their conscience, even if it leads them to disagree with certain Church teachings; see note 50, Heavey 2011.

61. See note 50, Heavey 2011.

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