Genetic information, social justice, and risk-sharing institutions

Journal of Medical Ethics 47 (7):482-483 (2021)

Abstract

Under conditions with a low level of available genetic information, mutualistic private insurance markets will often create broadly just outcomes, even if by accident rather than by design. Normatively acceptable outcomes of this kind would come under threat if insurers were to have increased access to genetic information with substantial predictive content.1 As the availability of relevant individual genetic information grows, mutualistic forms of market-based insurance face a dilemma between either sacrificing individuals’ interests in genetic privacy, or creating conditions for market failure due to adverse selection. My view is therefore that we have good reason to shift towards more solidaristic forms of ‘risk-sharing institutions’ with regard to functions such as life insurance and critical illness insurance, as a way of resolving normative tensions between values of equality, privacy, non-discrimination and autonomy. Such a position, I have argued, does not depend on endorsing any particular conception of social justice, but can be defended on the basis of a number of different plausible accounts of what justice demands.1 Jonathan Pugh argues against my endorsement of a shift towards solidaristic, non-market risk-sharing institutions, and instead argues broadly in favour of the status quo. He holds that it counts against my proposals that they ‘have wide-ranging and highly revisionary implications’, and argues that my approach is mistaken in relying on ‘a single contestable theory’. Pugh offers a purportedly less contestable account of the relevant normative considerations underlying insurance regimes, composed of three …

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Martin O'Neill
University of York

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