Related or contrasting ideas may be found in the sections on Animal Rights, Knowledge, Life, Medical Ethics, Nature, Progress, and Science




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Biological weapons research is justified

The United States probably cannot engage in secret biological warfare research

Michael E. Frisina (formerly, Director, Bioethics Program, Medical Research and Development Command, Fort Detrick, Maryland), “The offensive-defensive distinction in military biological research,” The Hastings Center Report, May-June 1990, p. 19+

“The United States destroyed all of its biological weapon delivery systems, with United Nations verification, after signing the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972. Research to develop and produce a delivery system (a shell canister or other such device to contain the organism) would require specific funding, high-containment laboratories, and numerous bureaucratic approvals that would make concealing the development of an offensive biological weapon virtually impossible.”


Existing laws cannot restrain other nations from developing offensive weapons

Peter R. Wheale (senior lecturer, Oxford Polytechnic School of Business) and Ruth M. McNally (visiting fellow, Oxford Polytechnic School of Business), Genetic Engineering: Catastrophe or Utopia?, 1988, p. 204

“The present international law and specific conventions unambiguously outlaw the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition or retention of microbial or other biological agents or toxins, and their military uses. However, it is not at all certain that the existing conventions will restrain these developments. In the first place, not all countries are signatories to the specific conventions. Furthermore, without policing of military laboratories by an independent international agency there can be no guarantee that covert production of biological weapons is not being undertaken.”


Biotech is crucial as a defense against bioterrorism

“Biotech can stop bioterror,” New Scientist, March 4, 2006, p. 7

“The best way to defeat bioterrorism might be to encourage bioscience in countries considered easy targets for terrorists trying to get hold of a biological weapon. Fear of terrorism is making the developed world clamp down on the spread of bioscience to developing countries, because poor security could allow terrorists access to the technology for bioweapons. Not only is that unfair, because it prevents such countries enjoying the benefits of biotechnology in food, medicine and other areas, but it could be counterproductive, says Abdallah S. Daar in a report from the University of Toronto’s Joint Centre for Bioethics in Canada. ‘What we are proposing is counter-intuitive, but if we create an infrastructure, we will have a large number of scientists who are familiar with bioterrorism, who can notice early signs and stop it happening,’ Daar says. Building the capacity for biological research in developing countries will encourage the development of regulatory regimes, professional codes of conduct and opportunities for international collaboration, he says. The report also calls for leaders of G8 countries to endorse a ‘network of networks’ that would alert authorities to possible misuses of technology. ‘It’s unavoidable that there will be some biotechnological development in these countries,’ Daar says. ‘The question is, do you want to shine light on it, or do you want it to happen outside your knowledge?’”


Academic research will develop protective vaccines

Seth Shulman (freelance writer on science and technology issues; 1988-1991 correspondent for Nature; 1993-2004 contributing writer and columnist, Technology Review), “Biological Research and Military Funding,” Technology Review, April 1987, p. 13

“University of Kansas scientists are cloning genes of the deadly disease dengue-2, and Molecular Genetics in Minnesota has a DOD [Department of Defense] contract to engineer a variant of rift valley fever, a rare and lethal African disease. Other university and government researchers are cloning a wide range of rare viruses, bacteria, and parasites. In each case, the goal is to help develop vaccines rather than weapons.”


Defense Department research is geared toward vaccines

Peter R. Wheale (senior lecturer, Oxford Polytechnic School of Business) and Ruth M. McNally (visiting fellow, Oxford Polytechnic School of Business), Genetic Engineering: Catastrophe or Utopia?, 1988, p. 200-201

“Since 1980 the U.S. DoD [Department of Defense] has initiated over 100 projects involving recombinant DNA methods and monoclonal antibodies as aids toward the evolution of vaccines against biological warfare agents as part of the Biological and Chemical Weapons Research Program.”


Restricting bioweapons knowledge handicaps our defenses

Heather Green (staff department editor), “Biotech: Can We Keep the Genie in the Bottle?” Business Week, December 2, 2002, p. 103.

“The threat of novel bioweapons has prompted a painful debate among American scientists: Should researchers censor themselves to stanch the flow of potentially dangerous information? The answer is probably yes, but there are at least three challenges. The pathogens — other than smallpox — are found everywhere in nature. Biotech expertise is also widely distributed around the globe, so self-censorship in one country may not prevent terrorists from obtaining knowledge and materials elsewhere. And there is a cost if scientists stop pooling their discoveries about killer pathogens. ‘By understanding what makes them deadly, we can protect people. That’s what biomedicine is all about,’ says Ronald M. Atlas, co-director of the Center for the Deterrence of Biowarfare & Bioterrorism at the University of Louisville.”


Biological weapon research is unjustified

Some believe that military biotech is universally immoral because of its ties to biological warfare

Michael E. Frisina (formerly, Director, Bioethics Program, Medical Research and Development Command, Fort Detrick, Maryland), “The offensive-defensive distinction in military biological research,” The Hastings Center Report, May-June 1990, p. 19+

“We can reconstruct the argument as follows: * There is an ethical tradition of healing in medicine that all cultures revere and depend upon. * New technology in medicine is a double-edged sword with the potential for benevolent gains and concomitant harms. * If there is concomitant harm and benefit resulting from medical developments in general then there is a conflict between harms (biological weapons development) and benefits (vaccine and drug therapies) in military medical research as well; we must then ask if the benefits are sufficient to warrant the risk of the harms. Since the only rationale for developing a defense (vaccine) against a known agent is when one is planning to use that agent in an offensive mode, there is no distinction between offensive and defensive military biomedical research. Thus all such research is necessarily harmful with no benefit consistent with the benevolent end of biomedical research, and biomedical researchers have a moral obligation to refuse to participate in it.”


Defensive research can easily be converted into offensive weapons

Peter R. Wheale (senior lecturer, Oxford Polytechnic School of Business) and Ruth M. McNally (visiting fellow, Oxford Polytechnic School of Business), Genetic Engineering: Catastrophe or Utopia?, 1988, p. 203

“Many genetic engineers in the U.S.A. are becoming alarmed about the ambivalence of defensive and offensive research, arguing that the U.S. DoD [Department of Defense], which claims to be performing military biotechnology for defence purposes only, can readily convert new organisms into insidiously tailored pathogens.”


History shows that ‘defensive’ biowarfare programs become offensive

Jeanne Guillemin (professor of sociology, Boston College; senior fellow at the MIT Security Studies Program), “Germ warfare under the microscope,” The Futurist, May-June 2008, p. 31

“Unfortunately, history shows that the military pursuit of advantageous knowledge can lead to capabilities that are more offensive than defensive. In World War II, based on faulty estimates of German capabilities, the Allies moved forward with important germ weapon innovations that they initially claimed were for retaliation but that had inherently offensive potential. The mass production of anthrax bombs is an example. The Soviet Union covertly expanded its own program during the 1970s and 1980s, explaining to its scientific cadre that the expansion was a necessary defense against the United States.”


The Defense Department funds ‘defensive’ experiments with offensive capability

Jeremy Rifkin (president, Foundation on Economic Trends), Declaration of a Heretic, 1985, p. 58-59

“Dr. Richard Goldstein, professor of microbiology at Harvard Medical School, sums up the nature of these kinds of biological experiments currently being conducted by the DOD [Department of Defense]. Under the banner of defensive purposes, the DOD ‘can justify working with the super-pathogens of the world — producing altered and more virulent strains, producing vaccines for protection of their troops against such agents... and likewise for the development of dispersal systems. Under this guise, what DOD ends up with is a new biological weapon system — a virulent organism, a vaccine against it, and a dispersal system.’ As you can gather from this, there is but a very thing line — if any — between such a defensive system (allowed by the Biological Convention) and any prohibited offensive system.”

[Ellipsis in original text]


Our biodefense labs have become the primary sources of risk

Lynn C. Klotz (senior science fellow, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation) and Edward J. Sylvester (professor, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Arizona State University), “Biohazard: Why U.S. bioterror research is more dangerous than bioterrorism,” Foreign Policy online, October 13, 2009, Online: www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/10/13/biohazard?page=0,3; accessed October 14, 2009

“The probability of bioterrorists using botulin, anthrax, or another deadly agent is a realistic one, but to cause mass deaths the agents would have to be developed and weaponized, requiring considerable skill by well-trained scientists using classified methods. A better bet would be to use the United States’ own bioweapons research against it, just as the 9/11 hijackers managed to turn the American transportation infrastructure into a weapon. As biowarfare expert Richard Ebright of Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute of Microbiology has argued, ‘If al Qaeda wished to carry out a bioweapons attack in the U.S., their simplest means of acquiring access to the materials and the knowledge would be to send individuals to train within programs involved in biodefense research.’”


The world sees U.S. defense measures as illegal bioweapons programs

Lynn C. Klotz (senior science fellow, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation) and Edward J. Sylvester (professor, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Arizona State University), “Biohazard: Why U.S. bioterror research is more dangerous than bioterrorism,” Foreign Policy online, October 13, 2009, Online: www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/10/13/biohazard?page=0,4; accessed October 14, 2009

“To many experts, the combination of massively funded experiments on dangerous pathogens and the obsessive secrecy in which they are cloaked gives the appearance, however false, that the United States is producing biological weapons. This would directly violate the terms of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the international treaty that is the world’s best hope for containing man-made biological threats.”


Research erodes the distinction between offensive and defensive measures

Keith R. Yamamoto (prof. of biochemistry and biophysics, Univ. of California at San Francisco), “Retargeting Research on Biological Weapons,” Technology Review, August-September 1989, p. 23

“Even worse, although DOD [Department of Defense] claims the research is defensive — and therefore permitted under the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention — the program subverts the distinction between defensive and offensive research. It raises suspicions among other countries about U.S. intent and destabilizes arms-control efforts. And it subjects the U.S. public to health risks from development, testing, and risk-assessment programs.”


U.S. research violates treaties

Keith R. Yamamoto (prof. of biochemistry and biophysics, Univ. of California at San Francisco), “Retargeting Research on Biological Weapons,” Technology Review, August-September 1989, p. 23

“Devising novel pathogens would appear to be a clear-cut violation of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, which forbids offensive biological weapons research. Yet DOD is doing exactly that in the name of defensive research. It says it will study the resulting agents to produce antidotes in the event that U.S. forces are targeted by biological weapons.”


U.S. research stimulates other nations to develop weapons

Keith R. Yamamoto (prof. of biochemistry and biophysics, Univ. of California at San Francisco), “Retargeting Research on Biological Weapons,” Technology Review, August-September 1989, p. 24

“DOD’s apparent strategy of disguising offensive research as defensive virtually demands that other nations, large and small, develop similar programs. They may view U.S. biological-weapons research with alarm particularly because the United States is the undisputed world leader in biotechnology and biomedical research. According to DOD officials, at least ten countries are doing biological-weapons research, but more detailed information is classified.”


Open-air tests put lives at risk

Keith R. Yamamoto (prof. of biochemistry and biophysics, Univ. of California at San Francisco), “Retargeting Research on Biological Weapons,” Technology Review, August-September 1989, p. 24

“The DOD research might also pose a public-health risk, despite emphatic denials from the Pentagon. In an April 1989 environmental-impact report, for instance, DOD promised ‘virtually total protection for the external environment.’ Such a statement does not tally with the sorry history of past DOD biological-weapons testing programs.”


Open-air tests have already killed

Keith R. Yamamoto (prof. of biochemistry and biophysics, Univ. of California at San Francisco), “Retargeting Research on Biological Weapons,” Technology Review, August-September 1989, p. 24

“Only after a 1977 Senate hearing did DOD acknowledge that in the 1950s it engaged in massive open-air tests in which it released vast quantities of mildly pathogenic bacteria over San Francisco Bay and in the New York Subway system. The tests appear to have triggered disease outbreaks that caused at least on death, according to the Senate testimony.”


Defensive research is useless, since vaccines are ineffective

Charles Piller (freelance writer and journalist, later staff writer for The Los Angeles Times) and Keith R. Yamamoto (prof. of biochemistry, Univ. of California at San Francisco), Gene Wars: Military Control over the New Genetic Technologies, 1988, p. 118

“If a vaccine were successfully developed, a defensive program might then move to mass-produce and stockpile it, as the United States has done in a number of cases. Clearly any nation planning a BW [biological warfare] attack would do likewise. But this is where the logic of defense doubles back on itself: the value of vaccines is negligible. Even before rDNA technology increased the number of potential threat agents exponentially, it was impossible — for medical, logistical, and financial reasons — to vaccinate all soldiers and civilians against all potential BW agents.”




Prager’s LD Vault: Biotechnology · Revised July 2010 · © 2010 John R. Prager
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