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The importance of bioethics

When we talk about genetics, inevitably we can have ethics doubts. Bioethics is essential in science. Genetic modified organisms (GMO), assisted reproduction techniques (ARTs), genetic counselling, rare diseases, euthanasia and palliative care, among other topics; they have importance in bioethics. However, we have to know what bioethics is before applying it.  


Ethics involves the set of rules that society have agreed about living with other people for minimums, which are human rights.

Bioethics is a branch of ethics, which is the interdisciplinary study of problems created by biological and medical progress (micro and macrosocial level), and its impact in society and value system, both for now and for the future.

Bioethics concerns for ethical questions involve in human understanding of life. It born by necessity of a critic reflection about ethical conflicts, which are caused by progressing in life science and medicine. Technological and medical tools have an important role in society and it has to manage.

It is important know that bioethics does not defend a particular moral attitude nor offer determinant and definitive answers, but it searches a grounded, critic and argued reflection centred in the singularity of a concrete situation.

In bioethics we find several grounded ethical theories. Two of these are deontological ethics and utilitarian ethics.

Deontological ethics was proposed by Immanuel Kant and it consists in that reason identifies actions like good or bad, independent of their consequences.

Utilitarian ethics was proposed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart-Mill and it says that actions are good or bad depend on their consequences. The balance between purposes that give benefits or damage is produced by utilitarian ethics.


In bioethics they are four basic principles and they were proposed by Beaucham and Childress (1979):

  • Autonomy
  • Beneficence
  • No maleficence
  • Justice

These principles can be grouped in two levels:

  • Minimum levels: obligations that generate universal duties and these involve negative transitive duties (facts that you cannot do other people). Here, there are principles of no maleficence and justice.
  • Maximum levels: they are related with the choice of the vital project that every person choose to depend on their scale of values. They generate imperfect obligations: facts that I can auto impose, but I cannot call for other people (neither other people to me). Here, there are principles of autonomy and beneficence.


Actions are only autonomous when it exists:

  • Intentionality
  • Knowledge (it is essential)
  • Not external control (there are not pressures)
  • Authenticity (coherence with system of values and usual attitudes of the person)

An autonomous person is who has capacity to act and judge consequences of their acts and be responsible. This person has to be able to communicate his decision clear and reiterated.


It has to act in benefit of person, but it can cause collateral effects.

It is important to know that you cannot do good against the other person’s will.


You cannot harm unnecessary other people. Damage can be avoided not acting, with a passive attitude. However, good has done with active attitude.

If someone asks you, you cannot do damage.


It involves to tract on the same way equal to equal and unequal to unequal. Vulnerable population have to receive an immediate benefit.

This principles, with principle of autonomy and beneficence (principle of no maleficence rises after), were necessary to regulate clinical trials with humans, due to Tuskegee case (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Researchers injecting the syphilis virus into African Americans (Source: Omicrono)

In the 60s, researchers did a clinical trial about syphilis. They wanted to see the evolution of the disease and find an alternative to painful treatments. So, they injected syphilis viruses without information of study and its consequences.


There are other important principles in bioethics.

  • Fidelity: protection of people, based on caution, proportionality, no discrimination and respect for people’s dignity. It includes privacy’s protection and confidentiality, keeping the promises and commitment.
  • Transparency: gives law and access to information. All information has to communicate clearly, comprehensively, honest and real.
  • Caution: based on analysis of risks. All investigations that could put at risk people’s health and future generations has to avoid.
  • Principle of proportionality: it is related to the principle of beneficence and looks at the relationship between the benefit obtained and the “costs” of means, human and monetary resources, risks and what the negative effects are.
  • Principle of non-discrimination: all persons who must be treated equally.
  • Principle of respect for dignity: no one has to be subjected to humiliation, must receive help in situations of need, have a minimum quality of life without suffering and freedom of action and decision, and not be used as the purpose of others.
  • Principle of respect for privacy and confidentiality: not unnecessarily reveal and/or interested personal and sensitive data concerning the subject. It is not an absolute principle and in front of a crime is not fulfilled.
  • Principle of respect for the right to information: all those involved in the process must know all the information (before, during and after the investigation).
  • Principle of free participation and donation: participation and donation are free and altruistic since if we are not talking about sale or exchange.



Pangolin: poaching is condemning it to extinction

Neither the tiger or elephant or rhino: the most hunted mammals by humans are pangolins, to the point of critically threaten their survival as a species. Discover the only mammal with scales, its current condition and what can we do to prevent the extinction of all species of pangolin in the world.


manis tricuspis, pangolin, árbol, tree, trepando
Tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis). (Photo by Bart Wursten).

The name pangolin (also known as scaly anteater or trenggiling) includes 8 different species distributed by a variety of habitats (tropical rainforests, dry forests, savanna areas, cultivated fields…) in Africa and Asia. They measure between 90 cm and 1.65 m. They are the only family in the order Pholidota: although physically similar, armadillos, sloths and anteaters are not its relatives (order Xenarthra). Most are nocturnal, solitary and shy, so there are still many questions about their biology and behavior in the wild (they don’t usually survive captivity).


Pangolins are the only mammals with scales: they are made of keratin (like our nails) and give them a look like a pineapple or artichoke. Scales are very sharp and they can move them voluntarily. If pangolins feel threatened hiss and puff, curl into a ball leaving the scales exposed and secrete pestilential acids to ward off predators (tigers, lions, panthers and humans).

leon, leona, pangolin, bola, lion, defensa
An impenetrable defense even to a lioness. (Photo by Holly Cheese)

The claws allow them both climb as digging: terrestrial pangolins hide and breed in underground galleries and arboreal pangolins do the same in hollows on trees. The tail of the tree pangolin is prehensile to attach to the branches. In addition, pangolins are excellent swimmers.
They are mainly bipedal animals: forepaws are so large that force them to walk on its hind legs, with a maximum speed of 5 km/h. Watch a pangolin walking and feeding:


Pangolin has no teeth and is unable to chew. It feeds on ants and termites, which locates with its powerful sense of smell (the view is underdeveloped) and catch them with its sticky and long tongue (may be longer than the body itself, up to 40 cm). The stones swallowed involuntarily and corneal structures of their stomach help them to crush the exoskeletons of insects. With its powerful claws destroy their nests to access them and avoid their attack plugging his ears and nostrils, besides having an armored eyelid. It is estimated that a pangolin can consume about 70 million insects per year, which makes them important regulators of the population of ants and termites.

lengua, pangolin, tongue
The tongue of the pangolin. (Photo by Wim Vorster).


Pangolins can reproduce at any time of the year. After pregnancy (two to five months, depending on species) only one young is born (African species) or up to three (Asian species).

pangolin, hembra, female, mamas, breast, pecho, tetas
Female pangolin. (Photo by Scott Hurd)

The pangolin is born with soft scales, which begin to harden after two days. When after a month come out of the burrow, they travel on the tail of her mother and become independent at 3-4 months. Their lifespan is unknown, although in captivity an individual lived until 20 years old.

pangolin, baby, cría, zoo bali
Female with her baby in the tail. Bali zoo. (Photo by Firdia Lisnawati)


In addition to habitat destruction, the main threat that pangolins face is direct hunting for human consumption. Although there are international laws to protect them, it is estimated that about 100 000 pangolins are hunted annuallyGiven the defense strategy of this animal, poachers only have to catch them of the ground. Like other species, like sharks, the food market and traditional medicine are the main causes of directing the pangolin towards extinction.

pangolin, jaulas, tráfico ilega, illegal trade, bushmeat
Illegal trade in pangolin. (Photo by Soggydan Benenovitch).


  • Bushmeat is considered a delicacy and an indicator of high social status in Vietnam and China. The pangolin fetus soup is sold as an elixir to increase virility and improve breast milk production. The price of bushmeat on the black market can reach $ 300 per kilo. The price of an individual can reach $ 1,000.
sopa, feto, soup, pangolin, feto, fetus
Pangolin fetus soup. (Photo by TRAFFIC).
  • Blood is sold as a tonic to improve health and as an aphrodisiac.
  • Scales can reach $ 3000 per kilo and are used for almost anything: to cure from acne to cancer. This belief is curious, considering that the scales have the same structure as our fingernails.
pangolín, china, medicina, medicine, tradicional, cura para el cáncer
Products of traditional Chinese medicine made of pangolin. (Photo by TRAFFIC).

All these purported medicinal and magical effects have no scientific basis, making yet more nonsense pangolin smuggling.


The population trend of all species of pangolin is declining in some cases to an alarming extent. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species classifies them as it follows:

IUCN Red List categories. (Image from

Because of their status, IUCN restored in 2012 a group of specialists within the Species Survival Commission (SSC) dedicated to pangolins (Pangolin Specialist Group -PangolinSG-). Its main objective are do research to increase knowledge of pangolins, the threats they face and how they can be mitigated to facilitate preservation.

The conservation projects that are being carried out include campaigns to reduce the demand of bushmeat and pangolin scales and the tightening of laws. Still, the total ignorance of populations’ state and low survival in captivity for breeding makes it difficult to design strategies for their conservation.


  • Reject any product derived from this animal, either bushmeat, scales or “miracle” products for the cure of diseases. Read the labels of any traditional remedies, especially if they are from the Asian market, and recall that its hypothetical benefits have no scientific basis, so that you can rethink their use.
  • Share information. If you own new data on pangolins, photos or videos contact with PangolinSG to cooperate with the investigation. Talk about them in your immediate environment to raise awareness and publicize this fantastic single animal.
  • Do a PhD about pangolins. Lot of research on these species is still needed, so if you are a student and you are planning to do a PhD, you can collaborate with PangolinSG with your future research.
  • Become a PangolinSG volunteer. Get involved in the development and implementation of projects and conservation programs.
  • Make a financial donation so PangolinSG can continue its work.

In conclusion, more scientific research, a change of mind and protection policies are needed to prevent the pangolin become an example of extinct species at the hands of ours, as it is about to happen to white rhino.