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I have a question that relates to bioethics and I'm wondering if it's on topic for this site. This particular question could potentially be asked in the "Intellectual Property Law" or "Laws and Legal Questions" sites, although both of these are still in commitment phase in Area51.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why would someone downvote the question? It's worth discussing, as although we say in the FAQ that bioethics is off-topic, we might be missing valid arguments for why it should be on-topic. +1 $\endgroup$ Feb 18 '12 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ @RichardSmith (only a year late). Downvotes mean different things on meta - faq $\endgroup$
    – Rory M
    Feb 16 '13 at 12:01
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At present, questions on ethics are expressly off topic as defined in the FAQ. Feel free to answer with a counter argument if you think the question would have real merit for the site!

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I am beginning to wonder whether we should allow bioethics questions on this site. We're running into more and more of these issues, such as the recent decision to allow the BRCA1 breast cancer gene to continue to be patented by a biotech company.

This is a first in Australia, and potentially opens up our genomes for commercial exploitation. Note that I am talking about isolated gene sequences, not a product (e.g. drug) resulting from gene sequencing.

This result is bad for women and bad for science, and biologists should be actively involved in debating these issues. If we don't discuss these issues here, where do we discuss them and who will do the discussing? Should this site only allow "mechanistic discussions"?

I realise that this creates some tension with the FAQ (see Rory M's post) but who says FAQs are set in stone?

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    $\begingroup$ They're absolutely not set in stone :D I would say however that there isn't anywhere near a finite number of answers to this style of question, which would make them unsuitable for the entire network (see the not constructive close reason). That's the rationale behind currently disallowing them in the faq. $\endgroup$
    – Rory M
    Feb 16 '13 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ While I completely agree behind this idea, I think there should still be a location to have these conversations. At present, our option is to relocate these conversations to Philosphy.SE, but we might lose a lot of the biology expertise in the transfer. Do you think there can/should be a streamlined way of continuing ethical questions stemming from Question/Answers? Perhaps a new, integrated feature in Stack Exchange. $\endgroup$ Aug 2 '16 at 19:27
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My opinions:

  1. Questions along "Should X be allowed" encourage discussion and are not a good fit for the Stackexchange format: Hence to be closed.
  2. Questions along "Is X legal in [Country]" would be better answered by a proper reference. It might be worth a try allowing this and seeing what kind of questions actually come up. But most likely it would be more useful to close these and instead provide links to legal references in the FAQ.
  3. Questions about safety and risk in my opinion would be on-topic, as long as they ask why/how/by what mechanism a biological agent is a hazard.
  4. Questions about regulations, such as legal requirements to be allowed genetic manipulation in a lab, might tend towards my argument 2. They are not directly related to biology either, so in my opinion off-topic.

That's all potential question types in this field that I can think of right now.

Conclusion: The only bioethics-related question that I can see valid for Bio.SE is something along "What does [biochemical X] do that warrants [restriction Y]?"

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