The gene genie: good fairy or wicked witch?

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 32 (4):723-739 (2001)
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Abstract

The so-called genetics revolution rests on a history which at its least can be described as controversial. Modern genetics needs to bear this history in mind. In particular, as with the past, the area of reproductive choice seems particularly vulnerable to potential abuse. Courts in the UK and elsewhere have already shown themselves willing to interfere with the choices of women in the management of their pregnancies. Medical advance, perhaps particularly the capacity to visualise the developing foetus, has added complexity to the question of whether the health care provider has one patient or two patients. Additionally, pregnancy is thoroughly monitored in modern medical practice and genetics may provide a further impetus or incentive to mandate increased policing of pregnancy. Gene therapy, once offered, will add further to the desire to ensure that women make the ‘right’ choice, especially when the invasion required is relatively minimal. Further, genetic information is at best predictive, but may, because of its scientific nature, appear to those receiving it to be certain. Thus, the provision of genetic information may reduce rather than enhance choice, unless carefully and sensitively provided. A mature and sophisticated debate about the role of genetics in reproduction is required—engaging rather than bypassing the public—if the real potential of genetics is to be vindicated.

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