Charting ELSI’s Future Course: Lessons from the Recent Past

Genetics in Medicine 14 (2):259-267 (2012)
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Purpose: We sought to examine the ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) literature research and scholarship types, topics, and contributing community fields of training as a first step to charting the broader ELSI community’s future priorities and goals. Methods: We categorized 642 articles and book chapters meeting inclusion criteria for content in both human genetics or genomics and ethics or ELSI during a 5-year period (2003–2008) according to research and scholarship types, topics, and the area of advanced training of the first-listed author. Research and scholarship type categories were developed and characterized through in-depth review of 95 randomly sampled publications from the larger group. Results: There is a single dominant approach to ELSI, which focuses on ethical and other social issues “downstream” of advances in genomics, the contributors to which predominately have advanced training in medicine or science fields other than social science. A comparatively low percentage of publications primarily offer policy recommendations, and these are much more likely to be written by those with advanced training in law than is the case for the literature as a whole. Social science studies predominately employ qualitative methods and vary significantly with respect to the extent and types of recommendations offered. Two further types of ELSI research and scholarship offer alternative models for so-called “normative” work in this field. Conclusion: Considering topics, training, and types of ELSI research and scholarship from the most recent past allows for a baseline perspective that is sorely needed in charting this field’s future course.



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Author Profiles

Rebecca Walker
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Clair Morrissey
Occidental College

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