Do New Tools Need New Ethics?

Do New Tools Need New Ethics?

Symbols of countries on a chessboard.

(© warloka79/Fotolia


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Jeffrey Kahn
Jeffrey Kahn is the Andreas C. Dracopoulos Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, and the Levi Professor of Bioethics and Public Policy. He is also Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management in the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. His research interests include the ethics of research, ethics and public health, and ethics and emerging biomedical technologies. He speaks widely both in the U.S. and abroad, and has published four books and over 125 articles in the bioethics and medical literature, and is currently co-PI for the Johns Hopkins Center of Excellence in Ethics and Policy Research on Genomics and Infectious Disease (NIH-NHGRI). He is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and Fellow of the Hastings Center, and has chaired or served on committees and panels for the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Institute of Medicine/National Academy of Medicine, where he is currently chair of the Board on Health Sciences Policy. His education includes a BA in microbiology (UCLA, 1983), MPH (Johns Hopkins, 1988), and PhD in philosophy (Georgetown, 1989).
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Why we should put insects on the menu

Insects for sale at a market in Cambodia.

David Waltner-Toews

I walked through the Dong Makkhai forest-products market, just outside of Vientiane, the laid-back capital of the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic or Lao PDR. Piled on rough display tables were varieties of six-legged wildlife–grasshoppers, small white crickets, house crickets, mole crickets, wasps, wasp eggs and larvae, dragonflies, and dung beetles. Some were roasted or fried, but in a few cases, still alive and scrabbling at the bottom of deep plastic bowls. I crunched on some fried crickets and larvae.

One stall offered Giant Asian hornets, both babies and adults. I suppressed my inner squirm and, in the interests of world food security and equity, accepted an offer of the soft, velvety larva; they were smooth on the tongue and of a pleasantly cool, buttery-custard consistency. Because the seller had already given me a free sample, I felt obliged to buy a chunk of the nest with larvae and some dead adults, which the seller mixed with kaffir lime leaves.

The year was 2016 and I was in Lao PDR because Veterinarians without Borders/Vétérinaires sans Frontières-Canada had initiated a project on small-scale cricket farming. The intent was to organize and encourage rural women to grow crickets as a source of supplementary protein and sell them at the market for cash. As a veterinary epidemiologist, I had been trained to exterminate disease spreading insects—Lyme disease-carrying ticks, kissing bugs that carry American Sleeping Sickness and mosquitoes carrying malaria, West Nile and Zika. Now, as part of a global wave promoting insects as a sustainable food source, I was being asked to view arthropods as micro-livestock, and devise management methods to keep them alive and healthy. It was a bit of a mind-bender.

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David Waltner-Toews
David Waltner-Toews is a veterinary epidemiologist and author of more than twenty books of poetry, fiction, and science. His most recent books are On Pandemics: deadly diseases from bubonic plague to coronavirus (Greystone Books, 2020); Eat the Beetles: an exploration into our conflicted relationship with insects (ECW Press, 2017) and The Origin of Feces: what excrement tells us about evolution, ecology and a sustainable society (ECW Press, 2013).
One Health/One Planet: A Special Magazine Issue on Climate Change, Diseases, and Research that Could Save Us

This single-issue magazine explores research taking single-aim at the overlapping dilemmas of a warming planet and more frequent global pandemics.

Original artwork by Celia Jacobs

In the spirit of rising to difficult challenges and erasing pointless divisions, we present One Health/One Planet, a single-issue magazine that explores how climate change and other environmental shifts are increasing vulnerabilities to infectious diseases by land and by sea. The magazine probes how scientists are making progress with leaders in other fields toward solutions that embrace diverse perspectives and the interconnectedness of all lifeforms and our precious blue dot.

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Matt Fuchs

Matt Fuchs is the editor-in-chief of Leaps.org. He is also a contributing reporter to the Washington Post and has written for the New York Times, Time Magazine, WIRED and the Washington Post Magazine, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @fuchswriter.