Generating a taxonomy of regulatory responses to emerging issues in biomedicine
Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 2005; 2(3): 130-141
In the biomedical field, calls for the generation of new regulations or for the amendment of existing regulations often follow the emergence of apparently new research practices (such as embryonic stem cell research), clinical practices (such as facial transplantation) and entities (such as Avian Influenza/'Bird Flu'). Calls for regulatory responses also arise as a result of controversies which bring to light longstanding practices, such as the call for increased regulation of human tissue collections that followed the discovery of unauthorised post-mortem organ retention. Whilst it seems obvious that new regulations should only be generated if existing regulations are inadequate (a practice referred to in this paper as 'regulatory syncretism'), this does not always occur in practice. This paper examines the conceptual steps involved in generating regulatory responses to emerging phenomena. Two decision points are identified. First, a stance is taken as to whether the emerging phenomenon raises unique ethical or legal issues (exceptionalism versus non-exceptualism). Second, the decision is made as to whether new regulation should be generated only for truly unique phenomena (syncretism versus asyncretism). It is argued here that it is important to make a careful assessment of novelty, followed by a reflective and deliberative choice of regulatory syncretism or asyncretism, since each type of regulatory response has advantages which need to be harnessed and disadvantages which need to be managed--something that can only occur if regulators are attentive to the choices they are making.
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