Award-winning paper illustrates how proposed criteria for defining “human” can be confounded by emerging bioscience technologies

Source: McGill Reporter
Bartha Maria Knoppers, Director of the Centre of Genomics and Policy at McGill University, has been named the 2020 Till & McCulloch Award recipient for her exceptional ethical, legal and social implications paper in Science entitled, Biotechnologies nibbling at the legal “human”.

Recent bioscience advances in the field of stem cells and regenerative medicine, such as the creation of synthetic human entities with embryo-like features and human-animal chimeras, are challenging the legal definition of what is classified as “human.” Ambiguity concerning the definition of “human” increases the probability that the important insights and clinical or commercial applications these technologies could provide will be delayed or frustrated as society wrangles with the serious ethical issues they raise.

In this paper, Knoppers, and her co-author Dr. Henry Greely, describe how the concept of “human” is defined within law and illustrate how the criteria that have been proposed for defining “human” can be confounded by emerging bioscience technologies. The article proposes using the term “substantially human” as a pragmatic solution to determine how human legal rights and definitions could be applied against the backdrop of new technologies. Knoppers’ work establishes a path that will assist scientists, clinicians and policy-makers as they work to address new technologies that are arising out of the cell and gene therapy field.

Knoppers will accept her award and present a lecture on October 28 at the Till & McCulloch Meetings, taking place virtually for the first time this year. “I am thrilled to be presented with the 2020 Till & McCulloch Award and honoured to join a group of distinguished past recipients,” said Knoppers. “This award is one of Canada’s highest honours in the field of stem cell and regenerative medicine and I appreciate the inclusive spirit of the award which recognizes the broad nature of academics working in this space, from basic science to those working in public policy.”

“The yearly selection for a Till & McCulloch Award awardee is challenging as we have many talented researchers in the stem cell and regenerative medicine sector across Canada,” said Dr. Michael Rudnicki, CEO and Scientific Director, Stem Cell Network. “Bartha Maria Knoppers is extremely deserving of the 2020 Till & McCulloch Award and we are delighted to have her join such an esteemed group of winners.”

September 17, 2020