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Ethics council rules on genes and behaviour

7 October 2002
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 178

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 PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) 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.

Concern over baby gene selection
BBC News Online |  2 October 2002
Genetics and human behaviour: the ethical context
Nuffield Council |  2 October 2002
Safeguards needed now to prevent unethical genetic solution in future
British Medical Journal |  5 October 2002
Warning on linking genes and human behaviour
The Guardian |  2 October 2002
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