The nature and significance of behavioural genetic information

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 25 (2):89-111 (2004)
Abstract
In light of the human genome project, establishing the genetic aetiology of complex human diseases has become a research priority within Western medicine. However, in addition to the identification of disease genes, numerous research projects are also being undertaken to identify genes contributing to the development of human behavioural characteristics, such as cognitive ability and criminal tendency. The permissibility of this research is obviously controversial: will society benefit from this research, or will it adversely affect our conceptions of ourselves and each other? When assessing the permissibility of this research, it is important to consider the nature and deterministic significance of behavioural genetic information. Whilst todate there has been much discussion and debate about the properties of genetic information per se and genetic determinism, this has not been applied to behavioural genetic research and its ethical implications. Therefore, this paper elucidates how behavioural genetic information can be distinguished from other types of genetic and non-genetic information and also synthesises the determinative significance of genetic factors for the development of human behavioural traits. Undertaking this analysis enables the ethical issues raised by this research to be debated in an appropriate context and indicates that separate policy considerations are warranted.
Keywords behavioural genetics  genetic determinism  genetic information
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