Oversight and Accountability
The appearance of new
technology can evoke apprehension and engender uncertainty among segments of
the population about its uses. Where
these concerns are related to issues having important ethical and social
implications, certain levels of oversight are appropriate. But it is important to create new oversight
mechanisms or regulatory burdens only when there are compelling reasons for
doing so. Public oversight should be in
proportion to the seriousness of the concerns raised.
Although some adjustments in
the current system of oversight are necessary, no new regulatory mechanisms are
needed at the present time to ensure responsible social and professional
control of such research in the United States. A system that has, over time,
protected the public health and safety while simultaneously providing a setting
that is congenial to the advancement of science has much to offer. The basic framework is sound and includes
several attractive features:
It is pluralistic, with multiple access
points for those who wish to be heard and influence public policy.
It is democratic, with public involvement
encouraged on different levels and at different points in the drafting,
consideration, and promulgation of public policy.
It is flexible, in that it can adapt to
accommodate cutting-edge research and innovative technology.
It is compatible with the values of
scientific freedom and public accountability.
It supports private-public partnerships
consistent with the distinct yet complementary goals of the private sector and
Despite these strengths of the
existing framework for oversight of research, as the science advances, new
issues may emerge that will challenge acceptable ethical practices and public
policy. As human stem cell research proceeds, there should be opportunities for
public reconsideration of the need for any special institutional oversight, and
we strongly recommend an open, informed, and continuing public discourse on
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| Contributed by: AAAS DoSER and the Institute for