In developing the original National Framework, GTEC (now GTECCC) recognised that ethical thinking in areas of medical and animal research is well developed. Environmental ethics or the ethics of gene technology were at earlier stages of development. However, IBCs are now well established within the regulatory system and in a better position to effectively consider ethical aspects of gene technology. In addition, HRECs or AECs may consider ethical aspects of gene technology. Existing codes of medical research ethics contain statements of broadly agreed and consistent principles; there are no equivalent international codes in relation to generally agreed principles for environmental ethics.
Queensland and VictoriaBoth the Queensland and Victorian Governments have introduced statements on ethics in gene technology:
- Code of Ethical Practice in Biotechnology in Queensland (2001)
- Statement of Ethical Principles for Biotechnology in Victoria (2006).
The Victorian Biotechnology Ethics Advisory Committee has published the Victorian Statement of Ethical Principles for Biotechnology in Victoria (2006). The ethical principles identified in the Victorian Statement are:
- respect for persons
- respect for animals
- respect for the natural environment
- respect for the public good, benefit and harm, justice and equity, probity and accountability.
New ZealandSimilarly, the principles identified in the New Zealand Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), (now New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority), Ethics Framework (2011) are complementary to those identified by GTEC. The New Zealand Ethics Framework contains two general principles:
- respect for the environment
- respect for people, including past, present and future generations.
The New Zealand Ethics Framework (ERMA 2011) identifies the following practical problems in environmental decision making and management that raise ethical questions:
- sparse or poor-quality data
- uncertainty or lack of understanding of cause–effect relationships
- long lead times between cause and effect and realisation of harm or benefit (thus involving the balancing of short-term gain against possible long-term loss)
- the need for complex interactions between the social, cultural, ecological, economic and technical aspects to be considered
- methods of selecting reference points for measuring changes in ecosystems
- the need to consider the acceptability or tolerability of particular environmental risk
- the perspectives and needs of multiple decision makers and stakeholders
- complications arising from multiple objectives.
International and nationalIn the area of research involving humans, the basic regulatory framework depends on well-established codes of ethical practice, such as the key international reference point of the Declaration of Helsinki (World Medical Association 2008).
In Australia, the reference point is the National Statement of Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans, 2007 developed jointly by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Australian Research Council (ARC) and Universities Australia.
In the case of research involving animals, there is a statutory framework within state and territory animal welfare acts. The statutory framework has been supplemented gradually by codes of practice and ethical principles developed by the NHMRC, in particular the seventh edition of the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes (2004) (the Code of Practice). Section 1 of the Code of Practice sets out the general principles for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, including the responsibilities of investigators and institutions, and the use of replacement, reduction and refinement techniques wherever possible. Where genetic modification involves animals, the Code of Practice specifies principles of conduct relating to the welfare of laboratory animals used to develop genetically modified animals, and the genetic modification of production animals.
The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (NHMRC 2007) sets explicit standards for researchers and public institutions. These standards are enforceable by institutions. Those conducting gene modification research or dealings with GMOs are covered by this Code and are required to comply with its provisions dealing with notification of breaches, investigation adjudication and penalties for infringements. This Code is produced and supported by the NHMRC, Universities Australia and the ARC.
There are a number of international declarations and statements dealing with the environment (see Appendix 3).