Populations and Genetics: Legal and Socio-Ethical Perspectives

By Bartha Maria Knoppers | Go to book overview

Attitudes to Genetic Research and Uses of Genetic
Information: Support, Concerns and Genetic
Discrimination

Martin Richards

Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge, UK


Introduction

Over the past decade, there has been a considerable amount of research on public attitudes to genetic technologies and the use of genetic information.1-3 In this paper I will discuss this research concentrating on issues related to genetic discrimination and large genetic databases. My paper will draw on a recent UK survey of public attitudes and some qualitative research we have undertaken with participants in an epidemiological genetic study of breast cancer.


Public Attitudes

Despite variations between populations and interest groups, there is wide evidence for a deep contradiction or conflict in public attitudes. Genetic technology and uses of genetic information are seen as both a threat and a promise.4 It is a double edged sword which may be welcomed for the promise of what it may do for human health, the prevention of disease and such things as detecting serious crime while at the same time it raises anxieties and concerns about potential genetic discrimination and as an unwarranted intrusion into our human nature. Not only is there is strong support for biomedical genetic research which may offer cures and treatments for disease but also many people are very overly optimistic about what genetic technologies can already achieve in curing disease. On the other hand, many see genetic research as “tinkering with nature” or leading to unnatural and unwanted “designer babies”.5 And there are fears of discrimination with

Bartha Maria Knoppers (ed.), Populations and Genetics: Legal and Socio-Ethical Perspectives. © 2003 Koninklijke Brill NV. Printed in the Netherlands.

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