Ethics parallel research: an approach for (early) ethical guidance of biomedical innovation

Karin R. Jongsma & Annelien L. Bredenoord

Published: 01/09/2020



Our human societies and certainly also (bio) medicine are more and more permeated with technology. There seems to be an increasing awareness among bioethicists that an effective and comprehensive approach to ethically guide these emerging biomedical innovations into society is needed. Such an approach has not been spelled out yet for bioethics, while there are frequent calls for ethical guidance of biomedical innovation, also by biomedical researchers themselves. New and emerging biotechnologies require anticipation of possible effects and implications, meaning the scope is not evaluative after a technology has been fully developed or about hypothetical technologies, but real-time for a real biotechnology.

Main text

In this paper we aim to substantiate and discuss six ingredients that we increasingly see adopted by ethicists and that together constitute “ethics parallel research”. This approach allows to fulfil two aims: guiding the development process of technologies in biomedicine and providing input for the normative evaluation of such technologies. The six ingredients of ethics parallel research are: (1) disentangling wicked problems, (2) upstream or midstream ethical analysis, (3) ethics from within, (4) inclusion of empirical research, (5) public participation and (6) mapping societal impacts, including hard and soft impacts. We will draw on gene editing, organoid technology and artificial intelligence as examples to illustrate these six ingredients.


Ethics parallel research brings together these ingredients to ethically analyse and proactively or parallel guide technological development. It widens the roles and judgements from the ethicist to a more anticipatory and constructively guiding role. Ethics parallel research is characterised by a constructive, rather than a purely critical perspective, it focusses on developing best-practices rather than outlining worst practice, and draws on insights from social sciences and philosophy of technology.

Full Access Link: BMC medical ethics