The Council is embarking on a new project that will examine how the concept of naturalness is used in debates about bioethics issues. The project will be led by Sir Roland Jackson, Council member and Executive Chair of Sciencewise.

From genetic modification and synthetic biology to reproductive technologies and cloning, the idea that if something is unnatural, it raises ethical problems is a theme that runs through many discussions. Similarly public debate often reflects an idea that it is good for certain things, such as ingredients in food or cosmetics, to be natural.

This project will explore how different uses of the concept of naturalness affect current public and political discussions about bioethical issues. The work will be used to promote informed debate about the concept of naturalness, particularly among journalists and politicians.

Several previous inquiries carried out by the Council have considered issues that are relevant to the concept of naturalness, including mitochondrial DNA disorders, GM crops, donor conception, genetics and behaviour, and emerging biotechnologies.

The new project will explore more deeply the issues raised in previous inquiries, and will inform future Council inquiries on relevant topics. The project will be guided by a Steering Group of Council members, and will be completed by the end of 2015.

To help the Council plan its work on this topic, it commissioned Dr Anna Smajdor, Lecturer in Ethics at the University of East Anglia, to write a preliminary background paper exploring the uses of the concept of naturalness in bioethics debates.

We are most grateful to Dr Smajdor for the paper, which can be downloaded here.