Relative to scientific understanding and technical capacities in the field of behavioral genetics, fears of behavioral eugenics are exaggerated. People have very little capacity, using the tools of molecular biology, to alter with confidence the genetic endowments of future children.
No emerging knowledge in the fields of behavioral genetics and developmental biology or the neurosciences would justify concluding in a global fashion that human beings can no longer be held morally responsible for their behavior because their behavior has been determined in a mechanistic fashion by their genes (Wasserman).
However, as knowledge of the behavioral sciences becomes more refined and certain, society will be forced to make increasingly nuanced judgments about the capacity for responsible moral action by individuals whose genetic endowment includes significant susceptibility to aggression or depression or other socially or medically deviant behaviors. That is, society will have no right to advance global assertions of moral responsibility by all individuals in all circumstances. In some circumstances moral or legal responsibility for specific actions will be diminished or eviscerated as a result of biological facts beyond the control of the individual.
A liberal society should accord substantial respect for the procreative liberty of potential parents, including their right to determine the genetic endowments of their future children. However, a responsible liberal society will take seriously its obligations to protect those children from embryonic behavioral genetic experimentation that would threaten their future capacities for autonomy or the future interests generally valued by all human beings. No simple moral algorithm can indicate how such balances should be struck in making public policy.
RICHARD A. SHWEDER (1 995) REVISED BY LEONARD M. FLECK
SEE ALSO: Autonomy; Freedom and Free Will; Genetic Counseling, Ethical Issues in; Genetic Counseling, Practice of; Genetic Engineering, Human; Genetics and Environment in Human Health; Genetics and Human Self-Understanding; Genetics and Racial Minorities; Genetics and the Law; Human Dignity; Human Nature; Privacy and Confidentiality in Research; and other Genetics and Human Behavior subentries
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