Brazil: Ethical Aspects Of Biotechnology

Last Updated: 8 March 2013
Article by Maria Thereza Wolff

Some considerations of ETHICS are necessary for us to explore our theme properly.

Aristotle and St. Thomas of Aquino admit the existence of an absolute value, which is the supreme good, God being the ultimate goal of man.

Kant admits that the normal meaning of human acts lies in the rightness of the purposes. He states: "Act always in such a way that the principle of your action can be raised to the category of universal law".

Theobaldo Miranda Santos defines ETHICS in his Manual of Philosophy as being "the study of human action regarded as free and personal, its purpose being that of working out rules at will in his inclination to the good. It is therefore a science that deals with the use the man should make of his freedom in order to achieve his ultimate goal.

The nature of ETHICS is therefore that of a normative science, because it studies the principles that should govern human action, that is to say, man's conduct, indicating the duty which we must perform, preventing our action from being dominated by instinctive reactions, by the impulses of affection and by the sophisms of passion.

BIOTECHNOLOGY in turn, taking one of its numberless definitions, is any technological application which uses biological systems, living beings or those derived from the latter, in order to produce or modify products or processes for a specific purpose.

Combining these two themes, we now enter an extremely subjective field, namely that of the Ethical Aspects of Biotechnology, and start our work by approaching the various currents which influence these Ethical Aspects.

1. Religions

The present progress of Biotechnology has caused the Centre Universitaire de Recherches Administratives et Politiques de Picardie (France) to hold in Amiens a colloquy to debate the juridical protection of a person in the face of the biotechnological risks, the ethical aspect of the problem from the standpoint of the religions represented at said colloquy:

a) Catholicism - the new Catholicism regards as immoral the production of human embryos for exploitation as a bank of biological material, and the genetic manipulation for the purpose of selecting the sex or other characteristics of the fetus without any therapeutic purpose, because this violates the personal dignity of the human being, while the techniques of reproduction which involve a person other than the married couple, as for instance the donation of sperm or the "hired belly" are dishonest.

b) Presbyterianism - the Presbyterian Church accepts artificial insemination with a donor, provided that the child, upon being born, gets to know his genitor, but it does not admit prenatal prevention of physically disabled beings, with a strong argument, namely: how can one deem the physical disability to be intolerable from the point of view of the unborn child?

The danger of going from prevention on to the refusal of acceptance of the disabled may imply not loving ones' own child after his or she has been born.

c) Islam - Biology from the ethical standpoint of Islam presents the following situation: fertilization in vitro is a science revealed in the Eighteenth Century and, if it is carried out by the spermatozoon of the husband, it is approved. The problem of the "hired mothers" is solved by the Koran as follows: the mother's milk is equal to the blood and, since a "wet nurse" can be remunerated, a hired mother who supplies blood to the embryo and fetus can also be remunerated. The embryo will only reach the status of a human being from the 12th day on, and interrupting the gestation by a therapeutic measure is not a crime; however, euthanasia and autopsy are crimes.

d) Judaism - a Jew feels responsible for revealed law, and not for a law drawn up by humans, and the revealed law cannot be adapted to the circumstances. Man is responsible for the individuals and species. So slaughtering animals and felling plants are not crimes; but extinguishing species is a crime. In Judaism there are crimes with divine judgment and crimes with social responsibility. Abortion and euthanasia to abbreviate suffering are prohibited.

e) Buddhism - Biotechnology in the light of the Buddhist ethics states the following:

Artificial insemination is permitted, and as regards the risks BUDDHA states that obtaining the human birth is very difficult, and when the biologists reduce the difficulties of the birth, they perform an act of goodness.

2. Regulations And Rules

In several countries there are rules, recommendations and regulations in the area of genetic engineering to protect the users and their environment as far as the release of products from Biotechnology is concerned. And to creating these regulations there was not need to prevent patentability of Biotechnology, since the PATENTS refer to Industrial Property, and the USE of such products refers to the GOVENMENTAL POLICIES.

In Australia, among many regulations there is the Code of Practice of Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Experiments (1990); the Rules of genetic manipulation on a small scale (1980); the Rules for manipulation of genetically engineered organisms (1990).

In Austria there is the Act of controlled use and of intended release of genetically modified organisms in the environment (1991).

In Canada the Rules for handling recombinant DNA molecules of viruses and cells (1989) are cited.

In the USA the Governmental Regulations for the planned introductions of products from biotechnology into the environment are cited (1992); the Rules for introduction of genetically engineered plants and microorganisms (1991).

In Germany, there is the Law of Regulation of matter from Genetic Engineering (1990); the Rules of recombination in vitro of genetic material (1986); the Guidelines of Safety in Genetic Engineering; the Rules and Regulations for Safety in researches of biotechnology and production.

In France there is the Manual of practices of good research and of tests in the field of transgenic plants.

In India there are the Rules of Safety in researches of Genetic engineering and the Rules of Safety of recombinant DNA.

In Japan, the Rules for application of recombinant DNA in agriculture, in the cultivation of forest trees, in fishing, in food and in related industries.

3. Good And Evil

It is of paramount importance for us, as professionals of Industrial Property and as human beings, to have a well-defined idea of the protection of living beings, respecting our internal rules of morality and ethics, but with the knowledge and awareness of what we are assuming with this formed idea. For this purpose, we will comment some basic points of view which will be appraised here, so that each person can draw his own conclusions.

For this purpose, we will divide ourselves into two groups, one being that of the BIO-FUNDAMENTALISTS, that is, those who do not desire any change in the "status quo" and, if possible, even wish the return to the phases the preceded the changes; and the other being that of the BIO-PROGRESSISTS, who accept the changes and incorporate them in their "daily life". We will raise 6 basic questions:

Bio-Fundamentalists Immoral

1) It is immoral that Man interferes with the "Holiness of Life" and with the "Integrity of the Species", by creating genetically transformed beings which, if they spread over the face of the earth, a fact which could hardly be avoided, will modify our environment in an entirely unpredictable unknown way.


2) The Scientific Community, mainly the academic researchers, in the face of the new source of revenue from patents and their licenses in biotechnology and genetic engineering, were no longer interested in publishing the results of their researches as before, but rather they began to keep them under lock and key as secrets, because "that" research might make him a millionaire through the patents. However, the pure research which has always served as a basis for applied researches is being abandoned, because it is not interesting to the researcher. Now there is a mercantilist spirit in the Universities, which is corrupting the academic world with serious consequences for the future of mankind.


3) The extent of the risks which genetically transformed plants and animals might bring to the human beings is not known. A patent unquestionably foments the researches and consequently the commercialization of genetically transformed plants and animals, with unknown results for the Planet.


4) Biodiversity, which is the co-existence in nature of animals and vegetables, which have been distributed in this way over the centuries by natural selection, will be seriously threatened with unpredictable consequences for the environment and, therefore, for us human beings.

As a result of patenting living beings, enormous extents of land will be used for monoculture of genetically modified plants, which will bring more money to the holders of the respective patents with complete destruction of ecosystems.


5) Only multinational companies and cartels, in which the economic power predominates, could research and exploit modern biotechnology and genetic engineering, thus making the division between the rich and the poor clearer and clearer.

Riches And Of Emerging Countries

6) Due to the advent of patents in the sector of plants and medicaments, the tropical forests, which are the great riches of emerging countries, will be patented, the emerging populations having to pay "royalties" for using their own property.

Bio-Progressists Immoral

1) Always, in every area, new customs were hardly accepted in the beginning, and history is there to prove this!

Today, the Societies are considering it "normal" that Man interferes with the "Holiness of Life" and with the "Integrity of the Species", by creating genetically transformed beings. Tomorrow, these being genetically transformed by inserting, for instance, a new bone marrow, will be cured of cancer or of their genetic tendency to contracting Alzheimer's disease, and then this sector of Biotechnology will no longer be considered "immoral".

Said "immorality" is therefore more a psychological problem than a matter relating to Industrial Property.

As to our environment, and its transformations caused by genetically transformed beings, they are possible, just as this transformation is possibly by burning vegetation and forest fire, prospecting and mining activities, felling tries with sawing machines and predatory fishing.


2) The mercantilist spirit of the present university milieu is beneficial in a sense, because it enables the Universities not to be supported exclusively by the governments or by donations, and so the number of researchers can be greatly increased due to the financial return of the investments through patents and their licenses. In addition, a patent discloses knowledge by its compulsory publication.


3) The risks to which Mankind is subjected by the existence of genetically modified plants and animals will be irreversibly present, since the researches will continue to be made and genetically transformed beings might be set free in nature, as the case may be.

Therefore, it is not the patent that promotes or does not promote the release of these beings, but rather the governmental regulations, for instance, the Biosafety Laws will guide this release.


4) The Biodiversity of the Planet is already threatened anyway, not to say in an advanced state of deterioration. Monoculture, monobreeding, the use of toxic agents released into the atmosphere, the pollution of rivers and seas, all of our ecosystem has already lost much of its diversity, independently of patents in the biotechnological area.

On the contrary, patents can even restore some of what has been destroyed, by the creation, for instance, of genetically transformed bacteria, which eliminate oil stains, plants resistant to noxious weeds, animals resistant to determined diseases, for instance, genetically transformed rats that nowadays allow tests to be carried out for fighting diseases.


5) Poor and rich will always exist on the Earth, since the existence of different individualities is inherent in the human being. This is homodiversity! That the rich exploit the biodiversity and the genetic engineering and thereby supply the poor with means for fighting noxious weeds and diseases is already an enormous advance with respect to the so-called economic unbalance.

By the way, the history of Mankind has shown that these references "rich" and "poor" are highly variable, and whole civilizations that were formerly called "rich" Disappeared And Gave Rise To Other Civilizations That Called "Poor" Today.

Riches Of Emerging Countries

6) The tropical forests, the greatest riches of determined emerging countries, can never be patented, merely because the plants existing therein are not patentable, because they do not represent inventions, but rather mere discoveries.

However, the active principles of these plants will be patentable. Having been isolated by expensive methodology, these active principles will have become medicaments. Many of these active compounds are not used today, because they are entirely unknown to Mankind.

It is important, however, that indigenous populations that hold the knowledge of the healing power of certain plants should also be given benefits resulting from the licenses granted to the patents.


There is a clear line between the good and the evil, drawn by the COMMON SENSE, and this is the line that will guide the ethics in biotechnology.

As shown above, in each statement, be it religious or philosophical, there is always the counterpart that is also true and that guarantees the biodiversity of ideas, of individuals and of the human race.

It is important to preserve this biodiversity with measures in which the COMMON SENSE reigns, rather than the fanatic one-sidedness of some, so that the so-called "globalization" can ultimately serve as the reunion of peoples, rather than the dilution of individualities and countries.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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