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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Commentary

Taking action on developmental toxicity: Scientists’ duties to protect children

Kristin Shrader-Frechette

Author Affiliations

Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, 46556, USA

Department of Philosophy, 100 Malloy Hall, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, 46556, USA

Environmental Health 2012, 11:61  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-11-61

Published: 10 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Although adaptation and proper biological functioning require developmental programming, pollutant interference can cause developmental toxicity or DT.

Objectives

This commentary assesses whether it is ethical for citizens/physicians/scientists to allow avoidable DT.

Methods

Using conceptual, economic, ethical, and logical analysis, the commentary assesses what major ethical theories and objectors would say regarding the defensibility of allowing avoidable DT.

Results

The commentary argues that (1) none of the four major ethical theories (based, respectively, on virtue, natural law, utility, or equity) can consistently defend avoidable DT because it unjustifiably harms, respectively, individual human flourishing, human life, the greatest good, and equality. (2) Justice also requires leaving “as much and as good” biological resources for all, including future generations possibly harmed if epigenetic change is heritable. (3) Scientists/physicians have greater justice-based duties, than ordinary/average citizens, to help stop DT because they help cause it and have greater professional abilities/opportunities to help stop it. (4) Scientists/physicians likewise have greater justice-based duties, than ordinary/average citizens, to help stop DT because they benefit more from it, given their relatively greater education/consumption/income. The paper shows that major objections to (3)-(4) fail on logical, ethical, or scientific grounds, then closes with practical suggestions for implementing its proposals.

Conclusions

Because allowing avoidable DT is ethically indefensible, citizens---and especially physicians/scientists---have justice-based duties to help stop DT.

Keywords:
Developmental toxicity; Ethics; Justice; Policy; Risk; Scientists’ duties