Notes from Table Discussions and Participant Responses: Core Values and Principles

Notes from Table Discussions and Participant Responses: Core Values and Principles


Core Values and Principles for a New Biopolitics:

Highlighted Comments and Concerns

After presentations from Michele Goodwin, Colin O’Neil, and David Winickoff on the topic of “core values and principles,” Tarrytown participants broke off into facilitated table discussions. Participants raised many interesting and diverse points on the possibilities and dangers of defining core values and principles in our work. The following notes provide highlights from these discussions as well as individual participants' written responses.


Key questions:

- What do we think of “biopolitics”?

- How are (bio)ethics and politics related? How should “conventional” bioethics and, for that matter, biopolitics be defined and characterized?

- What ways do we think the Tarrytown Meetings should approach biopolitics differently than it has been done in the past?

- Has this (determining core values/principles for biotechnologies) been done already? Are we reinventing the wheel? How will it be different from our predecessors?

- Are principles always evolving and changing or are we carrying the same things forth?

- What should the language be?  Who should define the language?

- How will the application of science be entrenched in scientific community?

- Can you have profound governance without a deep understanding of political economy? How do we put our questions in the context of a group (scientists) that is closed off?

Comments responding to plenary presentations by David Winickoff, Colin O’Neil, and Michele Goodwin:

- I feel conflicted by the formation of democracy when the conference has few scientists. Democratization of science needs to be explained.

- In Canada, there is no framework for the kind of discussion that David Winickoff was referencing in terms of democratic governance. Research in this issue is mostly corporate funded.

- I like David’s idea of being constructive rather than reactive to build a democratic foundation to bring to the science; technology will always be changing, so this approach will be more effective.
- Part of the project of democratizing science includes changing institutions, which is daunting. Do we have any models? I want to throw out the question of institutional transformations that are better for us.
- If we are looking at the whole paradigm, the complete thinking needs to be changed. What do we even mean by the word “democracy” – representative, institutional? Principalism doesn’t address issues of human beings. We need to understand human kind better.

- Should we address technology without democratizing science? We can’t expect everyone to know how a computation works.

- I am terrified by the idea of changing current norms of democracy, and don’t think that “democracy” is a term to get behind. I’m concerned with substance more than process and would prefer to get right to the answer rather than where democracy would take us in the U.S. I’m very concerned about what “the people” would do around these issues.

- Michele Goodwin introduced the idea of humility – how do we introduce this into our conference and biotech domain?

- The assertion of “you can’t understand science” shuts down discussion. We need to ask: who gets to have a say in discussion? What are the values?

Responses / concerns / questions: thinking about “core values and principles”:

- One can take a pragmatic approach where we take a particular campaign and decide on principles for that particular issue. Or, you can take an intermediate approach, i.e. not super general but also not inaccessibly specific – principles that will come out of this exercise aiming for the intermediate level will be the most useful.

- Why worry about language and principles? It’s too academic.

- Values and principles are valuable. The Prochoice Alliance for Responsible Research (PCARR) has a statement of principles, which it made to explain who the alliance is.

-The values and principles listed in the compendium for the Council of Europe are incomplete.

- There could be real value in claiming general values.  For example, say we sign onto UNESCO’s values, then we could do the work of getting more specific with those values as they relate to individual topics.

- It’s necessary that we link this to history and realize that fight is repeating. We all rebel and seem to forget that the principles and values we make are just repeating the same values and principles.

- It’s all well and good to have principles, but it’s what you do with it that matters. Political power influences the ability to take action.  Money influences political power. The aim is to get right down to what affects me and my family.

- This goes to the debate over intrinsic and instrumental differences; my concern about what we are doing here is that we don’t just want to come out of this with values, i.e. “we are for democracy and justice- holy moly!”; we need to have productive discussion of what we should be thinking about for issues; how do we think about the limits of where markets can go? 

- There is an emerging structure of global power which is not at all compatible with the meaning of those terms; we have not recognized how these values are incompatible with the market-based global power structure.

- We raised significant questions about whether change can actually be made through education of the general public as opposed to targeted people in power.

- I believe the establishment of values and principles is necessary if, in fact, one of Tarrytown’s goals is to initiate a movement. The benefit is that they can be used to guide, motivate, and find commonality.  The risk is that a few people may drop out because they either cannot agree with the values or principles or their employers will not deem it appropriate.

- The values and words are all in the books. They need to be vitalized, brought to practice to leave the small arena of intellectual debate and take shape in policy. Engagement and critical reflection will generate the material for future debates and adjustment of framework.

- A danger is that the principles become rote mantra. Treated as top down deduction guides for action – instead they need always interpretation and specification.


Responses to the four previously listed Tarrytown core values - social justice, human rights, ecological integrity, and the common good:

- Social justice is key – the protection of the interests of members of social groups – example women, racial groups, people with disabilities.

- The “common good” is a bit risky because such a concern is associated with communitarian (often socially conservative) groups.

- It seems crucial to state core values, especially if the Tarrytown sessions are to be a source of influence over other decision-makers. I believe that the commitments spelled out cover all the issues we discussed: social justice, human rights, ecological integrity & protection, and the common good. These recur in many of the statements in the Compendium.

- Tarrytown is an invaluable setting and experience, which stimulates, refreshes and encourages us to think further and develop networks for action. The four listed Tarrytown values are limited, vague, and misleading, but we should depart from ideas of purity and perfection. Take the best out of this communal experience and continue…

- Of course, the four you’ve laid out don’t “fully capture” because the terms can always be mis- or re-interpreted. But they are a pretty good start.

- [In response to the four Tarrytown goals listed]: The four notions are very familiar in the vocabulary of liberalism broadly defined; there is, in the West, a liberationist, emancipatory, individualistic, moral vision that emerged several hundred years ago and has dictated our ethic.

-We need to be careful about language, such as social justice and human rights, so they are not manipulated for harm.


Thoughts on bioethics:

- A problem with bioethics is that it doesn’t look at the concentration of power.

- We can have a position that builds upon traditional bioethics framework, instead of scrapping bioethics altogether.

- All bioethics commissions were designed to “bless” the new technologies.  We need to think about “Prudent vigilance” vs. “precautionary principle.”

- Ethics are in and of themselves already a problematic framework as we have learned with the institutionalization of bioethics. Maybe the very important exercise of Tarrytown should be described not really as about values and principles in the sense of ethics because they can always adjust to a very different agenda. Rather, the aim should be a political statement that is attached to leftist, feminist, anti-racist, anti-nationalist and anti-eugenics political projects and ideas.


Alternative strategies for proceeding without a principles/core values statement:

- We could gather around specific goals without having a core value/principle statement. For example, gathering around a public awareness goal to educate the public about the issues might be fruitful. 

- Consider modes and possibilities in different cultures and try to make them part of the venture.

- There should be room for disagreement on understanding terms such as social justice and equality.

- I am more impressed by cases and narratives that explain concerns. Values are important but they can be very abstract. We need rich description of issues instead of principles of belief.

- A document that expresses what Tarrytown is concerned about: things like social justice, environmental sustainability, democratic transparency. These are values or can be formulated as principles; however, they did not appear in this abstract form at the meetings, and I found this particularly important.

- I agree that is necessary to preface a policy statement or set of ethical guidelines with a statement of core principles and overall mission. However, I think this group will have its greatest impact through more concrete, specific actions: writings, curricula, legislation, artistic expressions, and social movements (analogous to the "It gets better" campaign).


Core values and principles Tarrytown participants would like to see considered:

- Liberty of sex and politics.

- Liberty from having your DNA inspected.

- Autonomy and being able to make an informed choice.

- Non-maleficence – notifying people about potential harms to discrete groups.

- Externalities and public consequences of private action.

- Function creep – DNA database use expands from child molesters to jaywalkers.

- Equal worth of all people.

- Access to technology for all.

- One participant listed:

1)     Protect and promote the resilience  of natural and social systems (natural  

        and human communities).

2)     Protect and promote the diversity of natural and social systems.

3)     Promote and build democratic/civil capacity.

4)     Promote and build a sense of civic equality and solidarity.

- The essential terms can each be fleshed out and interconnected. Add agency, dignity, respect, responsibility, trusteeship vis-à-vis the vulnerable and voiceless.

- Education of the public and informed consent; more people may care about the long-term implications of abuses of these technologies than we think.

- Participation: People have a right to participate in how decisions are made regarding the development and use of biotechnology in order to protect their rights. This includes fair representation on boards or panels of oversight committees where the government must support civil society’s concerns.

- Accountability: Governments must create mechanisms of accountability to enforce rights and afford protection against abuse within the development and use of advanced biotechnologies.

- Transparency:Transparency with the development or use of advanced biotechnologies must be provided to the public to a degree to ensure that individuals have appropriate decision-making mechanisms to protext their rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

- After hearing the list of four guiding principles (common good, ecological integrity, social justice and human rights), I think we’re missing: public health and safety.

- Reinvention of democracy in biotechnology assessment, giving people at the receiving end of biomedical services a voice. Politics is not equal to the free market.

- We should have a pro-choice statement on the value of embryo.

- I would like to see one of the principles articulate where markets can’t go.

- A value that’s missing from the primary four is: anti-human commodification.

- There is a concern over markets that is not captured by the list; the danger of using commodification is that is means something specific to certain individuals that would shy away from the discussion; we need to find a more general term.

- While the decision to sell a kidney or womb may look like a choice, it is hardly unconstrained, and it seems that our definition of human rights should extend to the freedom from having to sell body parts. In this vein, a core value could be: "respect of individual dignity, and protection from exploitation, commoditization, and the loss of privacy."

- I would like to see a value listed about the appreciation of human uniqueness, a notion of moral legitimacy of people regardless of traits.

- For me our framework of a new biopolitics should be explicitly integrated within a feminist, antieugenic and antiracist agenda because gender hierarchies, for example, and ideas about reproduction/family based on biology and nature (and not on democratic and collective values of conviviality) are important aspects of new biotechnologies.

- Biopower is useful because it identifies politics where we didn’t think politics existed.