, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 383-394

Ethical questions in the age of the new eugenics

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Abstract

As a result of the publicly funded Human Genome Project (HGP), and an increasing number of private enterprises, a new form of eugenic theory and practice has emerged, differing from previous manifestations. Genetic testing has become a consumer service that may now be purchased at greatly reduced cost. While the old eugenics was pseudoscientific, the new eugenics is firmly based on DNA research. While the old eugenics focused on societal measures against the individual, the new eugenics emphasizes the family as a control agent. Eugenics is now voluntary, with the promise of abortion for those afraid of producing genetically damaged children. The ethical concepts of beneficence, avoidance of maleficence, autonomy, and equity are discussed in terms of aspects of the HGP. One major issue is the need for an ethical system available to health consumers that will empower them and assist in their biogenic decisions.

“The concentration on the genes implicated in cancer is only a special case of a general genomania (emphasis added) that surfaces in ... the weekly announcements in The New York Times of the location of yet another gene for another disease. The revealing rhetoric of this publicity is always the same; only the blanks need to be filled in: ‘It was announced today by scientists at [Harvard, Vanderbilt, Stanford] Medical School that a gene responsible for [some, many, a common form of] [schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, arteriosclerosis, prostate cancer] has been located and its DNA sequence determined. This exciting research, say scientists, is the first step in what may eventually turn out to be a possible cure for this disease.’”

Lewontin 1

Portions of this paper were presented at the Eighth National Conference on Applied Ethics, Long Beach, CA, February 27, 28 and March 1, 1997.