From artificial wombs to head transplants, the real-world science issues we see in the headlines just get weirder every year. What used to be the domain of pulp fiction sci-fi is now taking up pages in the peer-reviewed journals.
This week, the John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values at the University of Notre Dame released its annual list of emerging ethical dilemmas and policy issues in science and technology.
Worst Health Crises of 2015
The Reilly Center, dedicated to cross-disciplinary discussion of scientific policy issues, has identified 10 worrisome developments that arose in 2015 and that should be watched closely in the coming year.
Genetic engineering, as one might expect, continues to be an area of concern. The Reilly Center's top ten list - presented in no particular order - includes two separate issues related to genetics: the gene editing technology known as CRISPR, and the diagnostic technique of rapid whole genome sequencing.
Also flagged for 2016 is the visually evocative issue of head transplants, which at least one physician is preparing to undertake by 2017. The Reilly report cites "myriad and almost inconceivable" ethical issues around the proposed procedure, which would call into question fundamental issues of identity.
The controversial research area of ectogenesis - or artificial wombs - is cited for its profound social implications in medicine, bioethics and reproductive politics. The report also raises intriguing questions on idea of outfitting people with exoskeletons for use in manual labor.
Artificial Brain Edges Closer to Reality
Other issues raised in the report concern digital labor rights, drones (naturally), and the use of bone conduction technology for piping advertisements directly into consumer's skulls. Then there is the matter of Hello Barbie.
The Reilly Center's list of emerging ethical dilemmas is complied with the help of Reilly researchers, other Notre Dame experts and friends of the center. You can get more details at the Reilly Top 10 project page, which features overview discussions along with hyperlinked citations to news reports and scientific journals.