On Tuesday, the federal ban on producing or experimenting with lethal virus samples was officially lifted. Though the intent is to better study these deadly diseases in the hopes of treating them more efficiently, critics still worry about the consequences of this decision.
Production Ban Lifted, Lethal Virus Research Once Again Possible
According to the head of the National Institutes of Health, Doctor Francis S. Collins, research is now officially allowed to commence. However, it will only be enabled if a panel of government officials finds that the study benefits would outweigh the damage done should something go wrong during research. This is to act as a precaution against reckless studies and catastrophic failures, hoping to prevent as much damage as possible.
Currently, the guidelines in place dictate that scientists that wish to study lethal virus samples will first need to prove that their research is scientifically sound.
They will also have to show that the outcomes of the research conducted will provide some kind of benefit to humankind, such as a vaccine. The study team would also have to prove that there is no safer alternative but to experiment.
They must also vow to undertake all research in a high-security lab. This is because any viruses created this way could pose a serious health risk. They might also cause a disaster should they escape.
This new policy reverses a 2014 decision to halt all research related to making three viruses more deadly. These are the flu, SARS, and MERS. Now, not only will research be able to resume on these pathogens, but on any that would be considered a significant health risk, for example, Ebola.
While the benefits of developing these superbugs are clear, so are the hazards. Even one small mistake during testing could potentially infect thousands, if not millions of people in an area. This could be affected by a dangerous, possibly incurable version of a highly contagious disease. The results of this new wave of testing will surely benefit humanity, though many urge scientists to tread lightly in their pursuit of knowledge.
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