Ethics council rules on genes and behaviour
Dr Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust
08 October 2002
The UK's Nuffield Council on Bioethics has published a report on the ethical, legal and social issues that are raised by behavioural genetics research. The report is called 'Genetics and human behaviour: the ethical context'.
One recommendation that the Council highlights is that it should not be permissible to use preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to screen and select embryos for behavioural traits that may be based on genetic information, such as intelligence or sexual orientation. But despite this recommendation, the Working Party that produced the report acknowledged that no single genetic variant has been conclusively shown to influence behaviours within the 'normal range of variation' (not those thought of as diseases or disorders). Many genes are likely to be involved in determining behaviour traits, as are environmental factors.
The report also concluded that genetic influences on behaviour may have implications for the criminal justice system. If there was found to be a genetic explanation for antisocial behaviour, for instance, this could be taken into account by judges when sentencing offenders, although it would not absolve them from responsibility.
The Working Party expressed concern that research into behavioural genetics might lead to increased medicalisation of behaviours previously considered to be 'normal' and that this would increase the burden on the health service. They also addressed issues relating to the use of genetic information linked to behaviour in employment, education and insurance contexts, and considered options for regulation of genetic tests and interventions.
© Copyright Progress Educational Trust
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.
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