Geneticization and bioethics: advancing debate and research

  • Vilhjálmur Árnason
  • Stefán Hjörleifsson
Scientific Contribution


In the present paper, we focus on the role that the concept of geneticization has played in the discussion about health care, bioethics and society. The concept is discussed and examples from the evolving discourse about geneticization are critically analyzed. The relationship between geneticization, medicalization and biomedicalization is described, emphasizing how debates about the latter concepts can inspire future research on geneticization. It is shown how recurrent themes from the media coverage of genetics portray typical traits of geneticization and thus contribute to the process. We look at examples of small-scale studies from the literature where geneticization of medical practice has been demonstrated. Methodological disputes about the relevance of empirical evidence for the geneticization thesis and the normative status of the concept are discussed. We consider arguments to the effect that ideas from mainstream bioethics have facilitated geneticization by emphasizing individualistic notions of autonomy and responsibility while ignoring the role of genetics in the wider social context. It is shown how a concept like geneticization, which can be used to draw the attention of philosophers, social scientists and others to challenges that tend to be neglected by mainstream bioethics, also has the potential to move people’s attention away from other pertinent issues. This may happen if researchers become preoccupied with the transformative effects of genetics, and we argue that a wider reading of geneticization should inspire critical analysis of the sociocultural preconditions under which genetics is currently evolving.


bioethics geneticization genetics medicalization responsibility 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy & Centre for EthicsUniversity of IcelandReykjavikIceland
  2. 2.Department of Public Health and Primary Health CareUniversity of BergenBergenNorway

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