Quick Takes: Thoughts on Ethics in Relation to Cellular Engineering


Robert McGinn, CCC Lead Ethics Investigator and Advisor, Emeritus Professor, Management Science and Engineering, Stanford.
See Stanford profile here

CCC is working with Robert McGinn, its lead ethics investigator, and other ethics advisors to identify fundamental ethical responsibilities of scientists and engineers, determine how practitioners should proceed when ethical responsibilities conflict, and illuminate the importance of an ethical framework in conducting research and innovation in academic environments and in startup ventures.

Topics being explored and integrated into CCC educational and outreach programs include responsible research and innovation, biases in algorithms, uses and abuses of artificial intelligence, CCC-relevant case studies (e.g., gene-editing of human embryos, the Theranos startup), ethical issues in cellular engineering R&D, startup ethics, forms of negligence in research and innovation, biases and ethical responsibilities in science communication, equitable and inequitable practices in science and engineering, and fostering public understanding of cellular engineering.

We’ll be adding links to our website with pertinent bioethical resources and information about how peer institutions are exploring ethical issues related to cellular engineering in particular and to bioengineering more generally. In addition, CCC expects to add additional items to the “Quick Takes” feature of this website and to  post further CCC-related studies and essays by Center ethics investigator Robert McGinn.

In 2019, Robert McGinn interviewed 8 CCC PIs on what Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) means to them, what it comprises, and how they practice and promote it in their labs. A panel of four CCC PIs discussed these questions at the annual CCC retreat in July 2020. The following report from Robert highlights some cases, practices, and policies the lab directors brought forward. It also explores RRI as it relates to the outcome, procedures, and context of a R&I endeavor. Finally, it challenges CCC members to identify responsibilities that arise in phases of R&I endeavors beyond the research phase, e.g., the understudied innovation and entrepreneurship phases.