Is there a duty to remain in ignorance?

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 32 (2):101-115 (2011)
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Questions about information inform many debates in bioethics. One of the reasons for this is that at least some level of information is taken by many to be a prerequisite of valid consent. For others, autonomy in the widest sense presupposes information, because one cannot be in control of one’s life without at least some insight into what it could turn out to contain. Yet not everyone shares this view, and there is a debate about whether or not there is a right to remain in ignorance of one’s medical, and especially genetic, information. It is notable, though, that this debate leaves unexamined the assumption that, if a person wants information, he is entitled to it. This paper examines the assumption, specifically in relation to genetics, where learning facts about oneself may reveal facts about other people, particularly one’s close relatives. This may be taken as a violation of their privacy, and since privacy is something that we normally think should be respected, it is worth asking whether one ought to abjure the opportunity to obtain genetic information for the sake of privacy. In effect, there may be an argument to be made not just for a right to remain in ignorance, but for a duty to do so.



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Iain Brassington
University of Manchester

Citations of this work

The virtue of uncertainty in health care.Stephen Buetow - 2011 - Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 17 (5):873-876.
Genetic information: making a just world strange.Iain Brassington - 2014 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 35 (3):231-246.

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References found in this work

Ignorance, information and autonomy.John Harris & Kirsty Keywood - 2001 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 22 (5):415-436.
Genetic ignorance and reasonable paternalism.Tuija Takala - 2001 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 22 (5):485-491.
Genetic privacy: orthodoxy or oxymoron?A. Sommerville & V. English - 1999 - Journal of Medical Ethics 25 (2):144-150.
Who should know about our genetic makeup and why?T. Takala - 2000 - Journal of Medical Ethics 26 (3):171-174.

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