Nanotechnology -- A New Field of Ethical Inquiry
Science and Engineering Ethics
Vol. 11, Num. 2
A debate on the ethics of nanotechnology is underway, and some claim that a new nanoethics is necessary. Are there, in fact, new ethical aspects of nanotechnology? Grunwald argues that there are "hardly any."
Among the questions that have arisen in the environmental debate are who is reponsible for the side effects of nanotechnology? Should there be a moratorium on development? Who judges the level of risk? Are there lessons to be learned from other fields and other products and other regulatory frameworks? Another debate centers around the perception that the benefits and risks of nanotechnology will not be equally distributed to rich and poor. Yet another issue is privacy and control, especially the ease with which, it appears, medical procedures will be done and medical information will be gathered about patients. Who should see and use such information? Nanotechnology suggests that the border between technology and life will be further blurred. Should the human nervous system be linked up mechanically to, for instance, control other objects? What are the boundaries of humanity?
Grunwald argues that these are none of them new questions. Instead, the ethical questions themselves have shifted in relevance. There are some "structurally novel" aspects of ethics in nanotechnology which arise from the new role of public discourse. Also, as fields that were separate converge in nanotechnology, they bring with them the ethical debates that characterized their own fields. Ethical assessment should be a concomitant process of technological development, accessed early on and used as a reflective tool. "Technology assessment and ethics have the responsibility, in the view of the rapid and momentous developments in nanotechnology, to make the societal process of learning which is always connected with the introduction of a new technology as constructive, transparent, and effective as possible by means of timely investigation and reflection."