Research team

Center for Ethics

Expertise

Ethical issues related to genetics, reproductive medicine, feminism, disability studies and neurodiversity (autism, ADHD).

Unlocking powerful non-model organisms in microbial synthetic biology - POSSIBL. 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2024

Abstract

Synthetic biology is a new discipline that allows designing and creating novel, completely man-made biological systems such as metabolic pathways. The innovative technology is a game-changer for the sustainable production of pharmaceuticals, biofuels, enzymes, aroma compounds and bioplastics. The synthetic systems are often implemented in E. coli or yeast cells because the biotechnological toolbox for these organisms is readily available. However, these microbes are often not optimally suited for industrial or medical applications. This project therefore aims to develop a novel toolbox that allows the ethical exploitation of superior non-standard microbes. The project will not only yield an important breakthrough for the efficiency and possibilities of synthetic biology, but also constitutes a research consortium of a team of young and ambitious scientists that will serve as a strategic hub for the further development of synthetic biology in Flanders, thereby helping to maintain its leading position in biotech.

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Be Better Informed About Fertility. Giving voice to citizens towards improving assisted reproduction technologies for society (B2-Inf). 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

B2-InF promotes Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and public participation in the field of Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ART), in order to align its scientific exercise and dissemination with the knowledge, concerns and expectations of populations (18-30 year-old) in Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Macedonia, Albania, Slovenia and Kosovo. How? 1) By collecting, analyzing and transferring social scientific knowledge, expectations, and concerns about ART to clinics and policymakers and 2) by improving the scientific information offered by ART clinics to society from sociocultural, legal and gender perspectives through recommendation guidelines. B2-InF's target population is young people aged 18 to 30 who are childless and have not yet considered having offspring or experienced the need for ART, and therefore are not yet conscious of their fertility needs. Members of this population are referred to as "not patients" or "young population." B2-InF defines ART to include every procedure that involves manipulation of gametes to achieve pregnancy in the treatment of infertility. B2-InF also follows World Health Organization's definition of infertility: "lack of conception following one year of unprotected sexual intercourse."

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Experiencing Difference. What can we learn from video games regarding the experience of psychiatric diagnoses 01/05/2020 - 30/04/2024

Abstract

Video games are sometimes thought to cause aggression, isolation or mental illness, despite the lack of conclusive evidence. The depiction of people with mental illness in video games is also often problematic, as the stereotype of the psychopathic character and of the mental institution as a setting for horror. However, more and more, artists use video games as a way to express their experiences with psychiatric diagnoses. Also, more and more games feature realistic and nuanced characters with a psychiatric diagnosis. With this project we want to investigate, using methodologies from disability studies and empirical philosophy, what we can learn from video games regarding the experience of a psychiatric diagnosis, especially autism, psychosis and depression.

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Research in the domain of neuroepigenethics. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

In folk psychology and in bioethical discussions, the central dogma of genetics is often taken for granted: humans are seen as defined in a genetic blueprint. The conceptualization of psychiatric conditions as innate or acquired, biological or psychosocial, genetic or environmental, influences the ascription of both capacity responsibility (the capacity to adapt or adjust one's own behavior) and normative responsibility of individuals or the society towards those diagnosed. But findings in the field of epigenetics indicate that the social and physical environment influence how genes are expressed. Indeed, epigenetics may shed a new light on distinctions such as innate/acquired, genetic/ environmental, biological/psychosocial: a far more complex view on neurodevelopmental disorders may emerge, with ethical implications. However, the implications of epigenetics for discussions on the scope and extent of normative responsibility have not been adequately addressed. NEUROEPIGENETHICS aims to investigate the ethical implications of epigenetics for neurodevelopmental disorders. We will use theoretical and empirical methods to investigate how certain concepts (innate/biological/ genetic) affect the ways in which professionals and stakeholders (persons with a neurodevelopmental disorder and their families) conceive of responsibility. We will evaluate how the emerging field of epigenetics alters the ascription of capacity responsibility and normative responsibility. We will research how individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Tourette Syndrome (TS) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)and their families experience the interaction between their condition and their biological and social environment. Finally, we will define moral responsibility in light of the emerging field of epigenetics in the area of neurodevelopmental dis

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Epigenetics, experience and responsibility: implications for neurodevelopmental disorders (NEUROEPIGENETHICS). 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

In folk psychology and in bioethical discussions, the central dogma of genetics is often taken for granted: humans are seen as defined in a genetic blueprint. The conceptualization of psychiatric conditions as innate or acquired, biological or psychosocial, genetic or environmental, influences the ascription of both capacity responsibility (the capacity to adapt or adjust one's own behavior) and normative responsibility of individuals or the society towards those diagnosed. But findings in the field of epigenetics indicate that the social and physical environment influence how genes are expressed. Indeed, epigenetics may shed a new light on distinctions such as innate/acquired, genetic/ environmental, biological/psychosocial: a far more complex view on neurodevelopmental disorders may emerge, with ethical implications. However, the implications of epigenetics for discussions on the scope and extent of normative responsibility have not been adequately addressed. NEUROEPIGENETHICS aims to investigate the ethical implications of epigenetics for neurodevelopmental disorders. We will use theoretical and empirical methods to investigate how certain concepts (innate/biological/ genetic) affect the ways in which professionals and stakeholders (persons with a neurodevelopmental disorder and their families) conceive of responsibility. We will evaluate how the emerging field of epigenetics alters the ascription of capacity responsibility and normative responsibility. We will research how individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Tourette Syndrome (TS) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)and their families experience the interaction between their condition and their biological and social environment. Finally, we will define moral responsibility in light of the emerging field of epigenetics in the area of neurodevelopmental disorders and child psychiatric practice.

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The meaning of the diagnosis 'autism' for adolescents. A phenomenological study 01/01/2018 - 30/06/2021

Abstract

The lived experience of what it means to have a diagnosis of autism has not gained sufficient attention. In this project, I will interview 12 adolescents (14-18 years old) who have received a recent diagnosis of autism. I will query how they experience having a diagnosis, and how they experience 'autism' and 'being different'.

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The importance of genes for persons conceived with donor gametes. A focus group study. 01/04/2016 - 31/03/2017

Abstract

Although it is reasonable to accept that those parents who are not genetically linked to their children have equal parental status and rights and obligations as those who share their genes with their children, the meaning of the genetic contribution for the resulting children is less straightforward. A practice in which the importance of the genetic link for offspring has been much discussed in the media recently is that of artificial reproduction, through artificial insemination or IVF, with donor gametes or embryos. However, a systematic study of values and opinions of donor conceived children is missing. The aim of this study is to investigate how do persons conceived through artificial reproduction techniques (ART) using donor gametes think about parenthood and the importance of genes, by means of focus groups. An evaluation of the role and significance of genetics and biology in relation to parenthood has important consequences for the way we conceive parenthood in philosophy and law, as it may, by reevaluating what makes one a parent, put into question the often deployed distinction between 'biological' and 'social' parenthood. With this study we want to add to the ongoing debate on parenthood, genetics and biology by interviewing those who are acutely confronted with such questions in their lives, the children that have been conceived through artificial reproduction with donor gametes. We aim to map opinions and lived experiences of donor conceived adults, as a first effort to elucidate on a more conceptual level the meaning of genetics and biology in the context of parenthood and kinship. On the basis of this mapping, a philosophical analysis of ethical and legal implications of anonymous vs. non-anonymous sperm donation could be fruitfully developed.

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Neurological diversity and epigenetic influences in utero. An ethical investigation of maternal responsibility towards the future child. 01/07/2015 - 30/06/2017

Abstract

This project deals with the question of responsibility of pregnant women towards their child. As such, there is a need to investigate also the perspective of women themselves, a perspective that is sometimes overlooked in philosophical discussions on this theme. I will explicitly also investigate the ideas and theories of feminist philosophers and their viewpoints on responsibility, pregnancy and difference, and investigate the viewpoints of women in the qualitative part of the research to avoid gender bias.

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