Many ethical questions arise due to investments in biotech companies, and one central question is, “What does the success of a biotech company mean for our society?” In general, the answer is not always clear. This can cause some investors to feel uneasy about investing in biotech companies or seeing investing in them as a way to impact society. This article explores some of these ethical concerns and offers advice on how the study of biology might help investors avoid unethical actions.
Ryan Kavanaugh is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He is also the director of the Program for Ethics in Emerging Technologies, which he founded after being inspired by a talk given by Stephen Talbott, a bioethicist.
A biotech company is a company that develops and makes products from genes, tissues, and cells obtained from animals or plants. Biotech companies usually produce new products that can be used to treat or prevent diseases and other conditions (e.g., new vaccines to prevent disease).
There are many possible ethical issues with investing in certain biotech companies. A few of these issues are whether to invest in companies whose methods or products are not fully understood, whether to invest in companies with products that could be used as weapons and what kind of control investors should have over the products that a biotech company develops.
Investors who understand the goals and methods of a particular biotechnology company’s research might be willing to invest in their projects even if they disagree with their aims. For example, the military may have access to advanced biotechnology tools, but biotech companies are not giving the military any special treatment or funding; they are simply researching how tissue can be repaired more effectively. In another example, a biotech company might aim to replace animal testing with new techniques that would allow them to develop a product more quickly and cheaply.
Concerns about unethical uses of biotechnology stem from the assumption that advances in biotechnology will benefit everyone. This is not always true: some people might use biotechnology to create better weapons or use their new abilities to take advantage of others. Biotech companies developing products that could be used as weapons should be monitored closely, but such companies could potentially develop beneficial products.