Genetic modification of animals:
Should science and ethics be integrated?

Henk Verhoog
Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological Sciences, University of Leiden,
The Netherlands


In this article I will explore the problem of 'forbidden knowledge' on the basis of my own experience in the Netherlands with the development of a regulative framework for all research involving the production and use of genetically modified (transgenic) animals. Although it is not yet definitely settled, this regulative framework is based on what is called the 'no, unless'-principle. The no, unless policy has been defined by Brom & Schroten1 in the following way:

Biotechnological activities with animals are to be prohibited by the government, unless
- it is not reasonable to think that the relevant values are violated,
- the aim is so important that the violation of these values is overruled.

It will be clear that there also should be no alternative ways (not relying on transgenic animals) of reaching this goal. Research in this direction is allowed only when a scientist receives a permission from the Ministry of Agriculture, the ministry that is responsible for the law on which this regulative framework is based. Decisions of the ministry are based in part on advice given by an ethical advisory committee. As a member of this committee I have been closely involved in the development of this regulative framework.

It was only when this regulative framework reached the stage of implementation that a part of the biomedical scientific community reacted quite strongly against the 'no, unless'-principle. How can we explain this late reaction, in view of the fact that a public debate about the ethics of genetic engineering of animals had been going on for some years already? Politicians and the public have said again and again that ethics ought to become a more systematic part of the activity of scientists in this field. In spite of this the board of my own faculty of natural science has said that 'this was not their business, but the business of politicians'. I think that one of the reasons is that most natural scientists are unwilling to take ethical reflection seriously. It is partly because of this unwillingness on the part of the scientists that outside control is now enforced, and perhaps in a more restrictive manner than if scientists had shown themselves to be more cooperative and above all more creative in this respect.

In this paper I will first give some more details about the background of the 'no, unless'-principle in the Netherlands. Then I will formulate some reasons why I think that natural scientists do not want to integrate ethics in their scientific work. Finally I will defend the view that it is, or can be, more 'rational' to integrate ethical reflection than not to do so, both from a philosophical and from a socio-ethical point of view.

The basis of the 'no, unless'-principle of research regulation

Before the issue of transgenic animals reached the agenda of politicians and ethicists, the Netherlands already had a well-developed and balanced system for regulating the use of animals for research purposes. Since 1977, there has been a special law on (vertebrate) animal experimentation. All institutes where experiments take place must have alicense and experimenters must be qualified to do animal experiments. Research projects must be screened by institutional (local) ethical committees. So there already was a tradition of ethical control of animal experiments. Scientists are no longer totally free to do what they want because vertebrate animals have a moral status. They have this moral status because they, more or less like humans, can suffer pain. Scientists must provide good reasons if they want to perform experiments involving pain.

In the law a number of goals are mentioned which legitimate the use of animals. So we could say that this law endorses a 'yes, but'-approach. It says 'yes' to animal experimentation for broadly specified goals, but it imposes a number of restrictions when the experiments involve pain (use of anaesthetics, alternatives, etc.). Allied with this policy is the use of a consequentialist utilitarian approach by ethical committees: the more suffering is involved, the more important the goal must be. It rarely happens that ethical committees refuse permission for experiments, but they pay a lot of attention to reduction of the number of animals involved, replacement of the use of vertebrates by alternatives, and refinement of the experimental procedures.

Although reluctantly, biomedical scientists have slowly accepted this kind of regulation of animal experiments, not only in the Netherlands but also in other European countries, the United States and Australia. For ethical reasons the freedom of scientific research is restricted to a certain extent, and this is enforced by regulation. Already in 1981 the Dutch government decided that the protection of animals should be based on the acceptance of the 'intrinsic value' of animals. This term has caused a lot of misunderstanding, but the basic idea behind it is rather simple. The use of this term arose in reaction to the increasing 'instrumentalization' of animals for research purposes and for bioindustrial purposes, as if animals had value only in sofar as they were useful for human beings (instrumental value). The protest against this 'anthropocentric' attitude was summarized in the idea that animals also have a value or worth of their own, and this was called intrinsic value.2 Before this concept was applied to animals, it referred to human conscious experiences of an ultimate nature, such as freedom or happiness. These experiences were valued not because they contributed to a higher value, but for their own sake. In view of this it seemed reasonable that, if one wanted to attribute intrinsic value to animals, one should try to argue by analogy that vertebrate animals had conscious experiences as well. And this is the way vertebrate animals obtained moral status.

What makes genetic manipulation so different from other forms of manipulation of animals that a change from a 'yes, but'- to a 'no, unless'-policy could be argued for? I have said that the 'yes, but'-policy in animal experimentation goes together with a consequentialist approach in ethics. One considers the consequences, the effects of the experiment upon the animal. If the experiment leads to animal suffering, the scientist is obliged to reduce suffering with anaesthetics when this is possible. In this view the painless killing of animals is not problematic; it is not the animal itself that counts, but only its conscious experience. The change to a 'no, unless'-approach can best be understood as a change from a consequentialist to a deontological approach.

In a deontological approach it is possible to rule out particular human actions because they are contrary to certain normative principles. Some actions are not performed, irrespective of the consequences. In the case of the use of animals the question then becomes whether we can imagine a situation in which we can argue that we should not do something to animals, even if they do not suffer from it. Imagine a genetic engineer saying that he or she is able, by means of recombinant DNA techniques,to change the genetic program of pigs, so that their capacity to suffer from stress during transport, or from the restrictions of their housing system, is removed. If only suffering counted, one would be able to say that the suffering has decreased, that the animal is feeling better than before, and therefore that nothing is wrong with this kind of genetic modification.3 Here many people, including myself, intuitively say that we should not adapt animals to a wrong housing system, one which does not take into account the species-specific nature (needs) of the animals, but vice versa. Reasoning in this way I have come to the conclusion that such an action would be wrong because it would go against the species-specific nature or character of the animal. This species-specific nature, including the inherent capacity to adapt to certain surroundings, is a more important indicator of intrinsic value than conscious experience. It does not follow that conscious experience is not important; for some species it is an important element of their species-specific characteristics. Conscious experience is not a necessary condition for having moral status but a sufficient condition.

Characterizing the term 'intrinsic value' in relation to the 'nature' of the organism or species brings other concepts, such as the 'autonomy' and 'integrity' of the organism or species, to the forefront. This reference to the 'nature' of the organism does not imply essentialism in the usual meaning of the term (eternal, unchanging characters). When ethologists study the behaviour of domestic animals in relation to their well-being, they compare this behaviour with the species specific behaviour of wild relatives. In general this behaviour has sufficient evolutionary stability for us to conclude that some kinds of behaviour are 'unnatural' or 'abnormal'.

With this new interpretation of intrinsic value it can be argued that the production of transgenic      animals by crossing species barriers violates the nature or integrity of the animals involved, even if there is no indication of suffering by the modified animal. Once this argument is accepted, one has a prima facie reason to say that genetic modification of animals as such should not be performed, irrespective of the consequences for the individual animal, for the environment, etc. For this reason, and also because of the unpredictability of the effects of introducing foreign genes into organisms, the largest animal protection movement in the Netherlands (Nederlandse Vereniging tot Bescherming van Dieren) has campaigned against all genetic modification of animals. The Dutch government did not want to go that far and has opted for the 'no, unless'-policy described in the introduction.

The attitude of scientists towards the 'no, unless'-policy.

The 'no, unless'-policy is backed by a law dealing with the health and well-being of animals. Although the articles of this law, that are relevant for biotechnology, are not yet in force, the Ministry of Agriculture had already installed an interim ethical advisory committee. This national committee gives ethical advice about research projects financed by the Ministry of Agriculture. The committee has so far given advise about one project only, dealing with transgenic cows created by the company Gene Pharming. This has become a much-debated case in the Netherlands (the so-called 'Herman'-case).4 The law is expected to come into force in 1996. From then onwards, all research dealing with transgenic animals will have to be submitted to this committee.

When the interim ethical committee was installed, all research institutes producing or using transgenic animals were asked to submit their projects to the committee on a voluntary basis. No institute complied with this request. It was clear that molecular biologists working in the biomedical sector were not in favour of another regulative framework. It was only in 1995, at a very late stage of the implementation process, that the Royal Dutch Academy of Science (KNAW)started lobbying in the parliament, stating that there is no morally relevant difference between making/using transgenic animals and other uses of animals for human purposes. It was said that the 'no, unless'-policy misjudges the moral urgency of scientific research for human health and well-being; only specific industrial or agricultural applications should be submitted to a separate ethical test. How can we explain this reluctance on the part of the molecular biologists to participate in an ethical dialogue? I think that one important reason has to do with the fact that natural scientists tend to dissociate science and ethics as two fields which have nothing to do with each other. Three further examples may illustrate this.

Molecular biologists are still proud of having been the first to declare a moratorium upon molecular biological research because of the risks involved. As a consequence of this moratorium public debates were held in many countries, ultimately leading to laws regulating the risks involved in the making and release of genetically modified organisms in the environment. When we examine these regulations, we see that in practice a strict division is maintained between risk analysis, which is considered to be a technical, scientific activity, and risk management, the political/ethical cost-benefit evaluation. The Dutch committee which investigates the risks of releasing genetically modified organisms is composed of scientists who make judgments only about safety. A sub-committee looks at social and ethical aspects, but only to give a 'signal' to the ministry involved that there may be an ethical problem. There is a strong tendency to separate technical and ethical issues. As a consequence of this a detailed regulative framework is built up around the technical issues, in which the scientists themselves have a dominant position, whereas the ethical questions are delegated to another committee or to the relatively unstructured political arena.

The second example relates to Leiden university. The university was a contracting party with the establishment of Gene Pharming at the Bioscience Park of the university. I inquired whether there had been a discussion about the ethical issues. The president of the university board said, in a personal communication, that this had been discussed in the Faculty of Natural Science and in the Department of Molecular Biology, where the research was to be done. The head of this department, however, said to me that the idea of talking about the ethical aspects had not even come up, and the dean of the faculty said there was no need for it: each individual scientist had to decide for him/herself and it was the business of politicians to say what should not be done, not of the scientists.

My third example refers to attempts of the Dutch Ministry of Education and Research to promote the introduction of ethical reflection in the universities. Here again, the universities are very reluctant to put this into effect. On the whole the technical universities, such as the Agricultural University in Wageningen, show more initiative than the other universities. The board of the Agricultural University has decided that all research should be evaluated by an ethical committee.5 But even this construction can be interpreted as an attempt to restrict discussion about the ethical issues to a special committee.

The experience described here shows that it is very difficult to integrate science and ethics. Discussions in parliament and public debates about biotechnology all express the need to integrate ethics in the daily work of the scientists, but the natural scientists themselves seem to have great reservations in actually doing it. How can we understand this?

Can science and ethics be integrated?

Various reasons could be given why natural scientists in particular are so reluctant to integrate ethics in their work. I will go into one reason which I think is very influential. It is the deeply ingrained belief in the distinction between facts and values, between is and ought. Space does not allow me to go into all the ramifications of this distinction,6 but it does not only manifest itself as the is-ought problem. It can also appear as the distinction between the responsibility of the 'scientist as scientist' and the responsibility of the 'scientist as citizen'.

I remember hearing an ethologist lecturing to students about animal welfare research, saying that as an ethologist you can only produce conditional statements about facts (if you do X, then Y follows). Y could be for instance the statement that the behaviour of animals in particular housing systems (X) is disturbed. As an ethologist you cannot say that this is good or bad; you can do this only as a citizen. He further explained why this is so: scientific experience is based on the assumption that material reality is causally determined. Subjective concepts such as ethical values and free will are not part of scientific discourse. The experimental approach of natural science leads to controllable, objective knowledge. He admitted that the experimental method also provides means to intervene in and to manipulate nature, as in agriculture. But as an ethologist you cannot say whether such manipulation is good or bad, because value-judgments cannot be derived from scientific knowledge. When you have abstracted from all values in scientific methodology, it is logically impossible to derive values from the knowledge resulting from the application of this method. Scientific knowledge is value-free.

I think this way of reasoning is typical of most natural scientists. It almost naturally leads to the view that science and ethics are two totally different fields of thinking which cannot be reconciled with each other. It can also explain why discussions between scientists and students, and outsiders to an even greater degree, about the ethics of animal experimentation tend towards a polarization of views.7 The ethical problem of animal experimentation, as seen by outsiders, tends to become de-ethicized within the scientific community. The animal is talked about as a resource, as a model or instrument. Problems with clear ethical components tend to be translated into scientific problems, which can be solved with the methods of natural science. As a result of this it is believed that scientific discourse should take place within the scientific community, and ethical discourse outside it: it is something you do 'as a citizen'. In scientific discourse the facts of nature ultimately will dictate what is true, and lead to consensus. Ethical discourse, on the other hand, is said to be subjective, irrational, emotional. There is no objective foundation upon which consensus in ethics could be grounded.

On the basis of the reasoning exemplified by the ethologist mentioned, one can understand that scientists believe that everything must be done to keep science and ethics apart. The value freedom of science has thus become an institutional norm. It is sometimes felt that the introduction of political and/or ethical discourse within the scientific community will not only lead to value-laden science, but may even bring about a disintegration of the scientific community.

The present situation in biotechnology seems to be that in the scientific community there are strong reasons (and feelings) to keep ethics out, whereas there are equally strong public reasons to bring ethics in, based on concern about the social and ethical impact of genetic engineering. The establishment of ethical committees could be seen as a compromise, but as long as these committees are not accepted wholeheartedly by the scientific community, they will be seen as an infringement on their work, enforced upon them by the world 'outside'.

If there is some truth in my diagnosis of the present situation, the question arises whether there a way out of the situation mentioned. Does the solution lie in the integration of science and ethics, or is it better to keep them totally apart, with the scientist limiting him/herself to the production of conditional statements of an instrumental nature and the public or its political representatives deciding about the value issues? Before we can make a choice it seems reasonable to ask first if integration is possible. On the basis of my analysis we can say that two things stand in the way of further integration, the scientist's self-image of science as objective, and the complementary view of ethics as totally subjective. Is a different view of science possible, which does not give up what is valuable about the fact-value distinction?

I have the impression that the self-image of natural scientists is still the same as that of the philosophers of science of the logical-positivist tradition. It sometimes looks as if the whole post-positivist, not to speak of the post-modernist, revolution in the philosophy and sociology of science has bypassed the community of natural scientists. It is only very recently that some people in this community have awoken and sounded the alarm about the extreme relativism in large segments of modern science studies.8

The image of science in the more relativistic schools of the philosophy and sociology of science since Thomas Kuhn, differs in significant ways from the self-image of the scientists. One of the central ideas in these circles is that facts are human constructs. This idea is directly relevant for the discussion about the relation between facts and values. It follows from this idea that the portrayal of the relation between facts and values as a dichotomy between objective and subjective is misleading. The dualistic view suggests that statements about facts are pure descriptions of what is observed with our senses, uncontaminated by any subjective elements. Relativists, in their critique of this view, emphasize the theory-ladenness of scientific observation, and bring to the fore the subjective elements in the choice of concepts, hypotheses, models, and theories, and the flexibility in the interpretation of what is observed. The role of experimentation in the 'making' of facts inside the laboratory has become an important topic of research. Relativists, in their enthusiasm, sometimes exaggerate, for instance when they ignore the correspondence with reality of scientific statements about facts. They are right, I think, in showing that, in experimental science in particular, objectivity is usually interpreted in terms of repetition, control and predictability under laboratory conditions. To claim that, the more these conditions differ from the 'real' situation in nature, the more the resulting facts can be seen as human constructs, seems to me an important one, which we cannot neglect.

The result of this relativistic turn is that in science studies we now tend to look at 'facts' differently. We can no longer talk about facts apart from some conceptual, theoretical or methodological framework. It can be demonstrated that in such frameworks a role may be played by not only constitutive, but also contextual values.9 An example related to animal welfare research is presented by J. Tannenbaum.10 The ethologist whom I mentioned earlier assumed that the concept of animal welfare was itself a neutral concept, referring to a condition of the animals studied. Determining the level of animal welfare was seen by him as an empirical undertaking, devoid of any value judgements. Tannenbaum calls this view the 'pure science model'. He shows quite effectively that there are a lot of cracks in this model, and that ethical values play a role in the definition of animal welfare, in the choice of the animal studied, in the implicit belief that the welfare of the chosen animal should be respected for its own sake, in the choice of the amount of animal welfare (only minimal welfare or more), etc. Tannenbaum concludes that animal welfare science is as much ethics as it is science.Unexpressed and unexamined ethical presuppositions sometimes lead investigators away from certain kinds of empirical investigations. A failure to integrate ethical reflection in the scientist's activities may, in this case, have empirical consequences.

Scientists, when faced with studies like the ones mentioned, sometimes maintain that in the 'actual' process of scientific inquiry (the testing of a hypothesis) these contextual values do not, or ought not, to play a role. Confronted with the results of science studies, the scientist's definition of 'science' tends to become restricted to a particular empirical testing procedure. A scientist may reason thus, of course, but this is no proof that there is an unbridgeable theoretical gap between the realm of facts and the realm of values. When it is further said that the scientist's responsibility 'as a scientist' is limited to such an empirical testing procedure, one can only conclude that this is not congruent with social practice. The ethologists mentioned, besides working in the laboratory, may be members of an advisory committee about animal welfare, they are invited to take part in public debates about these issues, they write research projects in which they say why it is important to conduct animal welfare research, and so on. They do all these things 'as scientists', with a particular know-how; they do not do these things 'as citizens'.

Sociologists of science usually include all these other activities of scientists in their definition of science. Science, from this perspective, is defined as a specific social activity of individual human beings, who are not only members of a scientific community, with more or less explicit values which are constitutive of doing science, but also have relations to other sectors of society. The answer to the question whether, and to what extent, the contextual values inherent in these other social sectors interfere with the constitutive values depends on the sector of science concerned, and is a subject of further research. Part of the differences between the sciences has to do with the possibility of creating more or less closed experimental systems in the laboratory.

What is important is that in the wider conception of science as a human social activity, fully embedded in society, there is no contradiction in saying that science so defined is never value free (contextual values), and at the same time accepting the relative autonomy of the constitutive values of empirical research, including the methodological norm of value-freedom. This is possible because the wider social concept of science embraces the restricted concept.

Within this wider concept of science there is no intrinsic barrier to the integration of science and ethics, when integration is understood as the systematic analysis and reflection upon the way contextual values and constitutive values are or ought to be related to each other. And there is a view of ethics that in many ways harmonizes with this new conception of science. It is called the 'good-reasons' approach. It is based upon the idea that in normative decision-making (sometimes called 'practical reasoning') a specific kind of rationality is involved, in which, beside factual elements, normative premises play a role. The philosopher S. Toulmin has done much work to make the 'logic' involved in this practical reasoning more explicit. On the basis of Toulmin's ideas Frank Fischer11 has tried to develop a 'logic of evaluation', a methodology to find out whether certain normative reasons used in policy debates are 'good reasons'.12 These are not explanatory reasons, as are given by some scientific theory about nature, but justifying reasons. Such reasoning may or may not lead to intersubjective consensus about ethical issues, but even if no consensus arises, it may make explicit at which points differences remain. An important consequence of this view of ethical reasoning is that both facts and values are treated as rationally comprehensible, having intersubjective meaning. Normativeconclusions are not derived from empirical statements alone. From factual and normative premises together, valid normative conclusions can be drawn.

When we combine this view of ethics with the two images of science discussed above, then we can call the rationality related to the narrow conception of science 'methodological rationality' (rationality sensu stricto) and the rationality involved in reasoning in the context of the wider, social concept of science 'practical or normative rationality' (rationality sensu lato). The latter concept of rationality is not opposed to the narrower one, as in the dualistic view of the relation between science and ethics, but includes the narrower one, just as factual premises are part of the logic of normative reasoning. One can then no longer say that normative premises are provided from outside, because in the social definition of science the dichotomy between outside and inside is given up. Neither are the normative premises 'extracted' from science (in the narrow sense of the word).

Should science and ethics be integrated?

Thus far we have only demonstrated that there is no inherent, methodological or theoretical barrier for the integration of science and ethics; we have not yet given arguments why we ought to integrate them. Space does not permit me to give a fully developed argument why such integration is preferable to the situation in which there really is a strict demarcation between science and ethics, with scientists only providing value-neutral empirical premises (facts) and others (politicians, etc.) deciding about contextual values, which, in any case, cannot be derived from science. The argument that, in actual social practice, contextual values interfere with constitutive values in many parts of science is not enough. One could simply say that this is not good science. L. Wolpert, in his book The unnatural nature of science is a good illustration of this way of reasoning.13

What are my arguments why we ought to strive after this integration? My first argument is an ethical one. Normative ethics in the good-reasons approach is based on the ideal of a moral agent who on the one hand is a free and autonomous human being having to decide for him/herself what is good or bad, and who on the other hand must try to universalize his/her ethical views, going beyond one's own interests, to find out whether they are ethically acceptable to as many people as possible. This also applies to the individual scientist. The Nuremberg trials after the second world war made it quite clear that Nazi scientists were morally responsible for what they had been doing. Their defense that it was not their business what happened with the results of their work, or that they were ordered to do this work, is ethically unacceptable. As a moral agent each individual scientist functions in larger social frameworks, beside the scientific community. Wanting to separate science and ethics, as two totally independent spheres of life, is to deny that the scientist is first of all a moral agent, with a moral responsibility for what she/he is doing in a social context. One could even say that this would be in-human.

What I have said could be interpreted in such a way that one accepts that each individual scientist should make up his/her mind about ethical issues; but it still does not provide an argument why ethical reasoning should be integrated within the scientific community as a whole, or within scientific work itself. The answer lies in the other element of normative ethics (good reasons approach), namely the tendency towards universalization. Once this idea of universalization has been internalized, it becomes an inner need to have a dialogue with others. One could even say that it is an ethical demand; the moral agent has a moral responsibility to respect the individual autonomy of other people, and their right to participate in discussions of a moral nature. The(democratic) moral dialogue is the core of ethics. Integration does not mean that from then onwards the scientists decide for themselves what ought to be done.

The ethical demand just mentioned is a general demand, applying to all moral agents, and thus to scientists as well. The second reason that I want to give is more specific for the activity of natural scientists. It has to do with the philosophical ideal that there should be a harmony between what is true and what is good. In ancient metaphysical systems it has often been said that what is true in an ultimate sense is good as well, and vice versa. The idea of academic freedom, which originated in German idealistic philosophy at the turn of the eighteenth century, still had this connotation. It was put forward to further the ideal of individual 'Bildung', that the search for truth should not be disconnected from moral development.

It was felt that all science should be unified by philosophy; the philosophical faculty should have a central position among all the sciences. Later in the nineteenth century this 'idealistic' philosophy declined and the natural sciences started specializing. Science became independent of philosophy and was practised for its own sake in the universities, or for the sake of technology in the high schools. Meanwhile the idea of academic freedom was maintained, and in Germany freedom of research even became enshrined in the constitution, in spite of the fact that the social context of scientific research had changed completely.

Practising science in the spirit of the philosophical ideal mentioned would mean that science and philosophy (ethics included) should again be integrated. It would mean that scientists should become aware of the philosophical (ethical) assumptions underlying their work, the limitations of the results of their research activities, the risks involved. The choice to use the experimental method in natural science is itself not a value-neutral choice. It is the choice for a way of investigating the natural world such that the knowledge developed can be used to manipulate and control nature. When this instrumental power over nature is inherent in the methodology used, then it becomes almost a philosophical necessity to situate this knowledge in a wider philosophical framework, to compare this scientific method with other methods, such as more phenomenological approaches. A practical consequence would be that early warning of possible risks (risk assessment) and ethical reflection upon these risks would take place during the process of development of new knowledge and technology, and not after it has been developed, as is the case nowadays.14 Science would be integrated in the human life-world in a much more natural way, and scientists would be trusted again as responsible citizens, and not as modern Frankensteins, pursuing their own goals and unwilling to respond to the concerns of others.

Appealing to freedom of research in connection with biotechnological research is hard to defend for various reasons: because of the modern university-industry liaisons, and because of the ethical aspects about which we have been talking.

Conclusion: what is wrong with forbidding genetic engineering?

If natural science can be seen as an individual and social human activity within the human and natural life-world, an activity with, because of the methodology used, the potential to interfere in and to manipulate nature, with tremendous effects upon the life-world, both positive and negative effects, then it becomes quite 'natural' to look at this human activity as we look at many other activities, namely from an ethical perspective. Each human being first of all has a social and ethical responsibility as moral agent, and added to this such an agentmay have extra professional responsibilities related to a specific job that the agent has chosen.

Some groups may be mandated to do things which normally are forbidden, like soldiers or policemen who, under certain circumstances, are allowed to kill other people. Similarly natural scientists may get permission to conduct painful experiments upon animals if they can show that they have 'good reasons' for doing this, whereas other people are not allowed to do so. Such mandates are given by society, and I see no reason why an exception should be made for biotechnologists. There is no a priori reason not to forbid some kinds of scientific research, in particular when harm is done to living beings which are used as object of research.

The scientist could respond that in general the activities of other citizens are not evaluated by ethical committees: why make an exception for scientists? The answer has to do with the work that scientists do, the risks involved and the scale of the effects of modern science. Genetic engineering is a powerful technique, applicable throughout the whole of living nature. Another reason is that human attitudes toward nature and towards animals are changing rather rapidly from the attitude of ruler and steward to that of partner of nature. Such developments will also effect the work of natural scientists, whose very experimental method of studying nature is based upon interference and manipulation (the human being as ruler of nature). Scientists like Wolpert, who are so proud of the 'unnatural' nature of science, see these developments as an attack upon science, but this need not be the case. It may lead to a plurality of methods for exploring nature, each with its own goal. Science as defined by Wolpert is then just one of them, and not, as he thinks, the one and only method ('it is science or nothing').

That society may be concerned about certain developments within science can now be understood as a legitimate concern. That ethical reflection is needed can also be understood. I have also argued that splitting up the world into facts and values, into science and ethics, is not a logical necessity. The life-world, the world which is shaped by our values, comes first, and although scientific theories about reality may not contain normative statements, this does not mean that they are not, in some way or other, related to contextual values. However objective they are in a methodological sense, scientific facts are embedded in this world of contextual values, they are developed for certain purposes (science for its own sake is also a purpose) and are used for certain purposes, and this is true for biotechnology in particular. There is no field of science where the liaison between universities, industry and governments is so great as in this field.


1. F.W.A. Brom & E. Schroten (1993). 'Ethical questions around animal biotechnology. The Dutch approach.' Livestock Production Science 36, 99- 107.
2. For a more extensive review of the use of this concept see H. Verhoog (1992). 'The concept of intrinsic value and transgenic animals.' Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 5/2, 147- 160.
3. The well known animal ethicist, Bernard E. Rollin, used a similar argument, which I have criticized in: H. Verhoog, "Ethics and genetic engineering of animals." In: A.W. Musschenga et al (eds.), Morality, worldview, and Law 28. (Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1992) pp. 267-278.
4. The Herman-case is discussed in Karel Glastra van Loon & Karin Kuiper. Herman. De biografie van een genetisch gemanipuleerde stier. Amsterdam: L.J. Veen 1995). ['Herman' is the name of a transgenic bull containing the gene for human lactoferrin. - Ed.]
5. The board had installed a committee to consider whether ethicalregulation was needed for biotechnological research conducted in the university. The committee published a report (Ethische toetsing van biotechnologisch onderzoek, august 1994), recommending the ethical evaluation of all research by a special committee. The board has decided to honour this recommendation.
6. For a more elaborate analysis I refer to: Henk Verhoog 'Science and the social responsibility of natural scientists.' Dissertation Leiden University, 1980. For a shorter version of my argument, see: Henk Verhoog 'The responsibilities of scientists.' Minerva Vol. XIX/4, 1981, 582- 604.
7. H. Verhoog (1993). 'Animals in education and the structure of science.' Global Bioethics 6/3, 177-185.
8. Michael Ruse 'Struggle for the soul of science.' The Sciences (Nov/Dec 1994), 39-44. Review of Higher Superstition by Paul R.Gross and Norman Levitt Baltimore, Md, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
9. Examples are:
-Robert C. Richardson, 'Biology and ideology: the interpretation of science and values.' Philosophy of Science Vol. 51/2, (1984) 396-420.
-Helen E. Longino. 'Science as social knowledge: Values and objectivity in scientific inquiry.' (Princeton, NJ: University Press, 1996);
-Wim J. van der Steen. Facts, values, and methodology: A new approach to ethics. (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995).
10. Jerrold Tannenbaum 'Ethics and animal welfare: the inextricable connection.' Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association Vol 198 No.8 (1991) 1360-1376.
11. Frank Fischer, Politics, values, and public policy: the problem of methodology. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990)
12. Other examples are given in my article: 'Policy analysis as normative science', in A. Elzinga et al (eds.), In science we trust? (Lund: Lund University Press, 1990), pp. 19-34.
13. Lewis Wolpert The unnatural nature of science. (London: Faber and Faber, 1993).
14. A positive development in the Netherlands in this connection is that the Dutch organisation of professional biologists (NIBI: Nederlands Instituut voor Biologie) has adopted a professional (ethical) code. The purpose of this code is to stimulate discussion within the community of biologists. One clause says that the biologist has to be aware of his/her responsibility towards the effects of the biologist's activities on nature and society. Another clause says that the biologist must have respect for life, and for the intrinsic value of organisms and ecosystems. The Dutch Biotechnological Society has also accepted a professional code in 1995, based on the so-called 'precautionary principle': no implementation of biotechnology should be made unless one has good reasons to believe that the risks are small, that there are no irreversible effects, and that possible side-effects are justified by the eventual benefits of applying the technique.

Author's address when this article was published:
Henk Verhoog
Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological Sciences
P.O. Box 9516
2300 RA Leiden,
The Netherlands

Current address:

Lois Bolk Instituut
Hoofdstraat 24
NL-3972 LA Driebergen


This article is republished with permission from The Monist, Volume 79, Number 2, April 1996. Editor: Barry Smith, Department of Philosophy, 611 Baldy Hall, State University of New York, Buffalo, NY 14260-1010, USA. Email:

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