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Ethical Concerns

Leonardo da Vinci: 'Foetus in the uterus', pen and ink, approx. 1512. The study of human anatomy remained controversial for centuries, and even though Da Vinci inspired further explorations of the human body during the Rennaisance, he did not publish these illustrations in his lifetime. Scientific discovery has the power to amaze and alarm. It is not surprising, therefore, that ethical questions accompany research, development and technology in Alberta.

Knowing that the necessary technology, opportunity and ability are available is only the first step in the innovation process. Individuals, institutions and governments then take a further step, and make decisions about the most responsible and safest way to proceed, balancing out the benefits and the detriments.

W. Swanenburg: Anatomical theater in Leiden, engraving (after drawing by Woudanus), 1610. Anatomical Theatres emerged in Europe in the 16th century. In these theatres, public autopsies were performed until stricter religious laws were passed in the 18th and 19th centuries, limiting the use of human cadavers for study.Ethical concerns focus on whether something is right or wrong according to a specific set of cultural values. The unknown can be frightening, especially when innovation emerges in long established religious, social and cultural frameworks. Many of the scientific breakthroughs that we enjoy today were at one time debated, like evolution and modern astronomy because they challenged a word view that had been accepted as truth. At one time, Greek and Roman laws forbade medical authorities from studying human anatomy, and the dissection of human bodies remained highly controversial for centuries. Today, anatomy is a cornerstone of any modern medical education.

Ethical debates can be intense and involve many participants. Here we provide three areas of scientific innovation—ecology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals—that are raising ethical concerns.

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