, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 171-183

Epigenetic Responsibility

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Abstract

The purpose of this article is to argue for a position holding that epigenetic responsibility primarily should be a political and not an individual responsibility. Epigenetic is a rapidly growing research field studying regulations of gene expression that do not change the DNA sequence. Knowledge about these mechanisms is still uncertain in many respects, but main presumptions are that they are triggered by environmental factors and life style and, to a certain extent, heritable to subsequent generations, thereby reminding of aspects of Lamarckism. Epigenetic research advances give rise to intriguing challenges for responsibility relations between the society and the individual. Responsibility is commonly understood in a backwards-looking manner, identifying causally responsible actors to blame for a bad outcome. If only a backwards-looking responsibility model is applied, epigenetics might give rise to arduous responsibility ascriptions to individuals for their health and the health of their future descendants. This would put heavy responsibility burdens on actors constrained by unequal social and economic structures. In contrast, a forward-looking responsibility notion takes account of structural conditions and pay attention to who is best placed to do something about conditions contributing to bad outcomes. A forward-looking responsibility notion would partly free disadvantaged individuals from responsibility, and identify actors with power and capacity to do something about structural factors constraining genuine choice.