Will all children be conceived via in vitro fertilization in the near future? Will we soon be downloading knowledge to the human brain? And why should we not save lives if these new technologies allow us to?
Those were some of the topics up for discussion when BII hosted a panel debate at this year’s Scandinavian start-up summit, TechBBQ, about the possibilities of gene editing and synthetic biology. We sat down with one of the panel members, Bogi Eliasen, for a talk about what the future might bring in this area.
For the past three years, he has been the chair of UNESCO Bioethics Committee and is an Associated Partner at the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies. He was also one of the main drivers in the Faroe Genome Project, FarGen, which is the first nationwide genome sequencing initiative with the aim of developing a platform for genetic research and clinical use for the Faroese population.
How is our view on biology changing over time?
Our challenge today is that we only focus on clinical data. We should talk less about technology and more about what we want to do with it, because behavior is important. Who should see the data? Should it be controlled? How can we use it to improve the quality of life? We need to think ahead and not just solve emerging issues, but bridge to the things that will occur.
Why do we need a different approach?
Our healthcare system is based on accidents where we step in rapidly to save lives. But today, people suffer from lifestyle diseases and we do not step in until people are very ill. This is also when the treatment is the most expensive. We will see a change in this area in the coming years, as our KPI’s will move from treatment to the patient’s quality of life.
Why is this change coming?
Because we need to work with prevention. It is not a problem that we get older, but the system is overburdened because the number of years people living with diseases is high, because the disease burden the individual person carries in a lifespan is increasing. The solution is not necessarily more treatment, but less treatment. It’s not just about giving people the best possible treatment but about not giving them the wrong treatment. We will need to be blunt and say: Yes, there is a right to live, but there is also a right to die with dignity and that must come back into the system.
Why do you work with bioethics?
Bioethics is widely misunderstood as something static, and in Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies and the Danish Unesco Bioethical Committee we want more focus on that. It is no more than three decades people were demonstrating against test-tube babies. Today, the same people are demonstrating for everyone’s right to have children. That is how far people move in just three decades, and it clearly shows how ethics is a moving target that we need to discuss continuously. My biggest fear is silencing knowledge.