Towards a European code of conduct for nanotechnology research, nano nano nano nano No-one can exactly agree on how large the future market for nanotechnology will be but almost everyone agrees that it will be massive. A 2002 study by the Mitsibishi Institute predicts a market of €110 billion by 2012, while a 2004 Lux Research study predicts a market of €1.9 trillion by 2014 which is ten times larger than biotechnology and which even exceed information and communication technology. Whatever the exact figure, nanotechnology is set to boom and research and development is mushrooming across all sectors of industry. Materials at the nanoscale may present many novel properties that are both exciting but sometimes poorly understood. Because of this, there are fears from some quarters, including laypeople and legislators, that research in nanotechnology could lead to new ethical issues, the protection of fundamental human rights and dignity, protection of the environment and safeguarding of personal information. Some commentators have even called for a moratorium on research until safety issues have been addressed… although how one can ascertain risk and safety on novel technologies without research is debatable. Recognising these dilemmas, the European Commission has stated that it intends to adopt a “Recommendation on a Code of Conduct for Responsible Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies Research” by the end of 2007 and has issued a Consultation Paper1 on this proposed Code. The Code focuses on three basic principles that the Commission believes are central to a good governance of nanotechnology, namely: • precaution • inclusiveness; and • integrity The Commission’s 2000 Communication on the Precautionary Principle states that "the Commission considers that the Community …has the right to establish the level of protection - particularly of the environment, human, animal and plant health that it deems appropriate". In the field of nanotechnology, the Commission considers that such a precautionary approach should extend “…beyond the scope of physical damage to the environment, to humans and to animals, extending to protection of human dignity, the right to privacy and to personal data protection. The principle of informed consent should always be respected in any intervention on human beings. Principles relating to the safety of researchers in the course of their work should receive particular attention.” Concerning inclusiveness, the values of openness and of impartial scientific advice are stressed together with the need for open and clear dissemination of information arising from publicly-funded research whilst protecting sensitive data. The importance of integrity in science is emphasised but the Consultation Paper warns against the dangers of publication standards being jeopardised and ethical and fundamental rights being breached in the race to exploit the vast new range of technological possibilities. Whether this would actually happen in Europe is a moot point but the Commission suggests that the Code of Conduct should set out specific measures that the Community, Member States and the scientific community could put into place to ensure the integrity of research in nanosciences and nanotechnology. As well as these three basic principles, the Consultation Paper stresses the need for • better and constant vigilance, including risk governance structures for nanoscience and nanotechnology • shaping research to address societal needs and benefits • increasing credibility and trust by means of an ongoing public engagement and dialogue • protecting fundamental rights Some examples of areas where these could be breached are given in the Consultation Paper, e.g. - free release of solid insoluble nanoparticles into the environment (without the knowledge of the impacts); - the remote control of human behaviour; - physical alteration or enhancement of the human brain or of the heritable genetic code for non therapeutic purposes; - human enhancement with the sole purpose to increase achievements in competitive sports; - non-therapeutic enhancement of human capabilities that create a risk of dependence, or are irreversible or are beyond the range of normal human capabilities. The initiative to prepare a Code of Conduct for the responsible development of nanosciences and nanotechnologies within the European Union is to be welcomed. Implementing the Code may, however, raise some important and difficult challenges that may need to be overcome, such as some level of harmonisation of the differing approaches to risk management and risk governance between different sectors and even different European directives and regulations, developing and implementing the necessary new testing methods and determining the appropriate balance between risk and benefit to individuals and society. 1 http://ec.europa.eu/sinapse/sinapse/index.cfm?fuseaction=login.guestform&redirect=cmtypubdischome.home&CMTY_ID=4E10DF9B- C446-4B22-214E55DE322F72D9&cmty_disc_id=9C2891B3-D043-41F9-2DD3F3E6174CBA7A&request=1 Richard Moore Institute of Nanotechnology


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