Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Governance of dual-use research: an ethical dilemma

Michael J Selgelid

Scenarios where the results of well-intentioned scientific research can be used for both good and harmful purposes give rise to what is now widely known as the “dual-use dilemma”. There has been growing debate about the dual-use nature of life science research with implications for making biological weapons. This paper reviews several controversial publications that have been the focus of debates about dual-use life science research and critically examines relevant policy developments, particularly in the United States of America. Though the dual-use dilemma is inherently ethical in nature, the majority of debates about dual-use research have primarily involved science and security experts rather than ethicists. It is important that there is more ethical input into debates about the governance of dual-use research.