Emerging biotechnologies hold great promise but could pose great risks. However, the benefits and costs are often difficult to anticipate and hard to quantify, and they can vary widely among the populations and environments.
[Photo: Dr. Michael K. Gusmano]
Rutgers School of Public Health faculty Dr. Michael K. Gusmano and colleague Dr. Gregory E. Kaebnick from the Hastings Center, have edited the new special report “Governance of emerging technologies: Aligning policy analysis with the public’s values” from the Hastings Center.
The report focuses on the predominant method used to evaluate new technologies in the United States, cost-benefit analysis (CBA). CBA aims to understand the public’s preferences for certain policy options — such as whether to halt, restrict, or promote the application of a new technology — by linking those preferences to a common metric, such as the amount of money that people are willing to pay for something that would be produced or destroyed by the application.
Proponents of CBA point to its relative objectivity, “in the sense of being scrubbed of bias, of fairly representing the views and interests of the overall population,” write Drs. Kaebnick and Gusmano in the introduction. “It tries to ensure that there is no thumb on the scales when a decision is made.” But critics say that CBA can fail to recognize important values, such as justice and equity in the distribution of benefits and harms to different populations.
“CBA and other formal policy analysis techniques are frequently used by researchers and policy makers around the world, not only to assess the value of health technologies, but a broad array of public health interventions,” says Dr. Gusmano on CBA use in public health. “The analysis of CBA in this project offers insights into the strengths and limitations of this decision making tool. In particular, it provides ideas about how to make sure collective decisions are more likely to reflect the values of the public.”