With a view to prevent the use of scientific research for bioterrorism and bio-warfare

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has issued a mandatory code of conduct for research scientists engaged in the field of life sciences. This has been done with a view to preventing the use of scientific research for bioterrorism and bio-warfare.

The aim is to ensure that all research activities, involving microbial or other biological agents, or toxins, whatever their origin or method of production, are only of types and in quantities that have justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes.

Ethical considerations in this Code of Conduct would be binding on all laboratory scientists involved in scientific research concerning dangerous organisms and toxic weapons against any living being or environment.

Bioethics has emerged as a new discipline over the past couple of decades and is poised to become a multidisciplinary specialty. Institutional review boards and ethics committees have evolved as conscience keepers of professionals with the view to safeguarding the welfare of members of society against any possible harm from scientific advances.

Advances in laboratory technologies have created new and complex ethical dilemmas. Laboratory services are an integral part of disease diagnosis, treatment, response monitoring, surveillance programmes and research.

Therefore, personnel working in clinical and/or research laboratories should be aware of their ethical responsibilities. It is necessary to comply with the ethical code of conduct prescribed by national and international organisations, and address the emerging ethical, legal and social concerns in the field of biological and biomedical sciences.

Pointing out that modern biology and biotechnology offer novel ways of manipulating basic life processes, the Code of Conduct says that purposefully or unintentionally, genetic modification of micro-organisms could be used to create organisms that are more virulent and antibiotic-resistant or have greater stability in the environment.

The scientists engaged in such research activities should be aware of the potential risks and concerns relating to science and its wider applications and the ethical responsibilities they shoulder. They should not only be aware of but also comply with the requirements of international conventions and treaties relevant to their research work, the code says.

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