Review: Eugenics and the Criticism of Bioethics [Book Review]

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 10 (4):409 - 418 (2007)
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Abstract

This article provides a critical assessment of some aspects of Ann Kerr and Tom Shakespeare's Genetic Politics: from eugenics to genome. In particular, I evaluate their claims: (a) that bioethics is too ‘top down’, involving normative prescriptions, whereas it should instead be ‘bottom up’ and grounded in social science; and (b) that contemporary bioethics has not dealt particularly well with people's moral concerns about eugenics. I conclude that several of Kerr and Shakespeare's criticisms are well-founded and serve as valuable reminders to the bioethics community. These include the claims: that bioethics ought not to consist entirely of applying moral theory to cases; that bioethics must take account of relevant empirical evidence; and that bioethicists should be on the look out for those subtle social forces which can undermine the voluntariness of people's choices and consents. However, we should reject some of Kerr and Shakespeare's other criticisms and I conclude (amongst other things) that even ‘mainstream’ bioethics is better able to deal with difficult issues like eugenics than Kerr and Shakespeare suggest

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Stephen Wilkinson
Lancaster University

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