chapter  17
16 Pages

Biotechnology and Rights: Where are we Coming From and Where are

ByRoger Brownsword

Introduction Biotechnology, like information technology, or indeed any other form of technology, promises certain distinctive benefits but, at the same time, presents its own particular set of hazards or risks. It follows that an adequate regulatory framework needs to have the profile of the technology-to-be-regulated clearly in its sights; in particular, insofar as the regulatory framework is intended to play a protective function, the risk side of the profile needs to be in focus.2 This being so, we can agree with Francis Fukuyama that we should distinguish between technologies that are low-risk and those that are high-risk.3 We can also agree that the risks associated with some technologies are more transparent, identified, and better understood than is the case with others. For example, whilst we understand that nuclear technology is high-risk (at any rate, relative to the severity and scale of the physical and environmental damage that it might do), we do not yet have a settled view about the nature or the order of risk presented by nanotechnology – we are not sure whether the utopian vision of a benign nanosphere or the apocalyptic vision of a nano takeover is right, or whether a more accurate risk-profile lies somewhere between these extremes.4 What, then, should we make of the respective risk-profiles of information technology and biotechnology?