Background to the project

From genetic modification and synthetic biology to reproductive technologies and cloning, the idea that if something is unnatural, it raises ethical problems is a theme that runs through many discussions. Similarly public debate often reflects an idea that it is good for certain things, such as ingredients in food or cosmetics, to be natural.

Several previous inquiries carried out by the Council have considered issues that are relevant to the concept of naturalness, including mitochondrial DNA disorders, GM crops, donor conception, genetics and behaviour, and emerging biotechnologies.

This project will critically explore how current public and political bioethics debates are affected by ideas about naturalness and how this correlates with academic discussions relating to the concept. The project is being overseen by a Steering Group chaired by Roland Jackson, Executive Chair of Sciencewise and a member of the Nuffield Council.

The activities of the project will include:

  • Evidence gathering – find out more
  • Expert roundtable meeting and public dialogue – find out more
  • Briefing events for journalists, politicians and scientists to discuss the outcomes of the project.
  • Public events and activities to promote debate more widely about the concept of naturalness in bioethics debates.

The project will be completed by the end of 2015.

To help the Council plan its work on this topic, it commissioned Dr Anna Smajdor, Lecturer in Ethics at the University of East Anglia, to write a preliminary background paper exploring the uses of the concept of naturalness in bioethics debates. We are most grateful to Dr Smajdor for the paper, which can be downloaded here.

We are interested in hearing from anyone who would like to contribute to the project or about other work being undertaken in the area. Please contact Catherine Joynson, Programme Manager

Previous work

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Nuffield Council on Bioethics
28 Bedford Square
London, WC1B 3JS

Tel: +44 (0)20 7681 9619

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