The Genetic Revolution: Ethical Issues

Ernlé W.D. Young, Ph.D.

In this overview of the many ethical issues that have been generated by the genetic revolution, I will touch on four main topics: genetic testing; genetic therapies, and their potential use for "enhancement" purposes; germ line eugenics, whether negative or positive; and cloning.

1. Genetic Testing:

  1. Who should be tested?
  2. Under what conditions should the results of tests be conveyed?
  3. Should children be tested for genetic predispositions?
  4. The possibility of discrimination--in insurance and employment
  5. Where there is an environmental stimulus that activates a genetic predisposition to a disease, but it is not yet known, could providing genetic information alone cause more harm than good?

2. Genetic therapies, and their potential use for "enhancement" purposes:

  1. In principle, no serious objection to somatic cell genetic therapy
  2. Somatic cell therapy does raise one troubling ethical issue: its potential for purposes of "enhancement."

3. Germ line eugenics--whether negative or positive:

  1. Negative eugenics may be acceptable for the treatment of truly serious diseases (for which some use the term, maladies)
  2. Positive eugenics is generally thought to be unacceptable.

4. Cloning

  1. All is not lost
  2. Failed experiments

5. Conclusion

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