On the Necessity of Legislating Morality for Genetic Decisions

  • Daniel Callahan


The initial question I want to touch on is whether genetic disease should be of governmental concern. The specific thesis I then want to argue is that, to the extent governmental concern takes the form of mandating tests or screening, to that extent its action can be construed as an instance of the legislation of morality. Since the “legislation of morality” is popularly considered to be wrong in our society, a choice will then have to be made. Either we abandon the notion that the legislation of morality is in all instances a wrongful governmental act; or we declare ‐‐ to preserve the purity of the distinction between public policy and private morality ‐‐ that the government should stay entirely out of the area of genetic disease, at least out of it to the extent of passing no mandatory laws of any kind bearing on the control of genetic disease. I realize that by no means all members of our society, or of our legislatures, believe that the legislation of morality is necessarily bad; they may have no particular problem with my line of reasoning. My special challenge will be to those who want to uphold a strict separation of law and morality while at the same time pressing for greater governmental intervention into procreative decisions which give promise of maintaining or increasing the present individual and societal burden of genetic disease. Just whose foot the shoe I am going to fashion will fit will have to be left to those prepared to try it on.


Family Planning Genetic Disease Simple Principle Public Purpose World Population Growth 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Callahan
    • 1
  1. 1.Hastings CenterInstitute of Society, Ethics, and the Life SciencesHastings-on-HudsonUSA

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