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Confrontations in “Genethics”: Rationalities, Challenges, and Methodological Responses

Abstract

It was only a matter of time before the portmanteau term “genethics” would be coined and a whole field within bioethics delineated. The term can be dated back at least to 1984 and the work of James Nagle, who claims credit for inventing the word, which he takes “to incorporate the various ethical implications and dilemmas generated by genetic engineering with the technologies and applications that directly or indirectly affect the human species.” In Nagle’s phrase, “Genethic issues are instances where medical genetics and biotechnology generate ethical problems that warrant societal deliberation.” The great promises and terrific threats of developments in scientific understanding of genetics, and the power to enhance, modify, or profit from the knowledge science breeds, naturally offer a huge range of issues to vex moral philosophers and social theorists. Issues as diverse as embryo selection and the quest for immortality continue to tax analysts, who offer reasons as varied as the matters that might be dubbed “genethical” for or against the morality of things that are actually possible, logically possible, and even just tenuously probable science fiction.

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1. See Nagle J. Genethics. BIOS 1984;55(1);3–11 at p. 3.

2. See note 1, Nagle 1984:3.

3. Burley J, Harris J, eds. A Companion to Genethics. Malden MA: Blackwell; 2002.

4. Häyry M. Rationality and the Genetic Challenge—Making People Better? Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2010.

5. An example of the knee-jerk reaction is the response to the cloned sheep, Dolly: see note 4, Häyry, 2010:chap. 6, especially pp. 124–127. “Really responsive regulation” is a significant and nuanced idea developed by Robert Baldwin and Julia Black. Their work, and other works in regulatory theory, make interesting reading and is worth noting in the context of applied ethics, as it affords a more subtle (and accurate) picture of mechanisms available to states to guide behavior, moving far beyond simplistic notions of what “the law” can do: see Baldwin R, Black J. Really responsive regulation. Modern Law Review 2008;71(1):59–94. Another text worth noting, notwithstanding again its not focusing specifically on genethics, is Brownsword R, Yeung K, eds. Regulating Technologies: Legal Futures, Regulatory Frames and Technological Fixes. Portland, OR: Hart; 2008.

6. See note 4, Häyry 2010:xi.

7. See note 4, Häyry 2010:2.

8. These are the subjects of chapters 3–9, respectively.

9. See note 4, Häyry 2010:chap. 2.

10. See note 4, Häyry 2010:25.

11. See note 4, Häyry 2010:27.

12. Indeed, Häyry himself occasionally gives footnoted caveats, hoping not to have lost or distorted meaning in the presentation of argument.

13. See note 4, Häyry 2010:43.

14. See note 4, Häyry 2010:47.

15. See note 4, Häyry 2010:48.

16. See note 4, Häyry 2010:48.

17. See note 4, Häyry 2010:51.

18. See note 4, Häyry 2010:chap. 10.

19. See Gray J. Isaiah Berlin. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; 1996, especially chap. 2.

20. See note 4, Häyry 2010:43.

21. The passage Häyry cites is from Brazier M, Cave E. Medicine, Patients and the Law (4th ed.). London: Penguin; 2007:68.

22. See note 4, Häyry 2010:42 (emphasis in original).

23. See the discussion of “agnostic liberalism” by Gray; see note 19, Gray 1996.

24. Gray J. Two Faces of Liberalism. Cambridge, UK: Polity; 2000.

25. See note 24, Gray 2000:1.

26. See note 4, Häyry 2010:86.

27. See note 4, Häyry 2010:88.

28. See note 4, Häyry 2010:93.

29. See note 4, Häyry 2010:94–5.

30. Ironically in part because, if this is the case, it suggests after all a slip into a methodological approach that Häyry considers inadequate.

31. See note 4, Häyry 2010:238.

32. See note 4, Häyry 2010:227.

33. See note 4, Häyry 2010:238.

34. See note 4, Häyry 2010:240.

35. See note 4, Häyry 2010, for example, at p. 223.

36. See, further, Coggon J. Problems with claims that sanctity leads to ‘pro-life’ law, and reasons for doubting it to be a convincing ‘middle way.’ Medicine and Law 2008;27(1):203–13, especially pp. 209–12.

37. And it is already a great number: just in regard to the seven issues he considers in the book, Häyry notes at least 72 philosophical stances that might be critically examined; see note 4, Häyry 2010:239.

38. See note 4, Häyry 2010:239.

39. Cf. Holm S. If you have said A, you must also say B: Is this always true? Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2004;13(2):179–84.

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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
  • ISSN: 0963-1801
  • EISSN: 1469-2147
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-quarterly-of-healthcare-ethics
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