Date of Award
The questions surrounding the recombinant DNA research debate are not just questions of technique and safety. They involve the driving forces of scientific research, especially those premises and presuppositions concerning the expansion of knowledge versus our ability to use that knowledge wisely. Basically, we ask if policy--scientific, industrial, or political--should be an integral part of our future steps in recombinant DNA research and development.
It is obvious from past mistakes involving pollution, waste of fossil fuels, and over-mechanization that we must try to avoid the crucial tendency that technology has of overrunning common sense and moral guidelines. This is especially true in light of the fact that we are looking at an area of research in which results are probably the most unpredictable of any area of biochemistry. There comes a point at which the scientist, seeing himself as providing good for mankind, becomes hostile at the thought of the regulator burdening down progress with red tape. The regulator, on the other hand, views the scientist as being too ambitious and uncontrolled, and sees himself as a protector of the "real world" from the eccentricities of the research scientists.
In the recombinant DNA question, this conflict becomes strikingly real. The techniques and ideas are no longer hypothetical or theory; they are available for widespread use.
A method of reducing risks while maintaining the potential benefits of recombinant DNA research must be found. On this point, there seems to be widespread agreement among scientists and lay-people. The real debate begins when the regulations for accomplishing this goal are proposed. Not only are the regulations themselves debated, but the validity of them is also a focal point of debate. Here, the challenges to validity comes from the rapidly changing knowledge concerning recombinant DNA techniques. Possibly, the answer is not in a set of fixed rules, but in rules that can be easily accommodated to current knowledge without endangering the public or the enviornment.
Therefore, the following is a review of facts concerning recombinant DNA research, starting with the basic premises of molecular genetics and then reviewing National Institutes of Health guidelines, testimony before the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Science and Technology, and transcripts of the National Academy of Sciences' Forum on Recombinant DNA research. Within this review, the risks, benefits, and existing regulations will be discussed, concluding with a general summary and commentary. It is hoped that this paper will serve as an informative summary of the author's three semester study of the recombinant DNA research policy debate.
Brown, Richard E., "The Recombinant DNA Debate" (1979). Honors Theses. 610.