Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics

Special Section: Open Forum

Confrontations in “Genethics”: Rationalities, Challenges, and Methodological Responses


It was only a matter of time before the portmanteau term “genethics” would be coined and a whole field within bioethics delineated. The term can be dated back at least to 1984 and the work of James Nagle, who claims credit for inventing the word, which he takes “to incorporate the various ethical implications and dilemmas generated by genetic engineering with the technologies and applications that directly or indirectly affect the human species.” In Nagle’s phrase, “Genethic issues are instances where medical genetics and biotechnology generate ethical problems that warrant societal deliberation.” The great promises and terrific threats of developments in scientific understanding of genetics, and the power to enhance, modify, or profit from the knowledge science breeds, naturally offer a huge range of issues to vex moral philosophers and social theorists. Issues as diverse as embryo selection and the quest for immortality continue to tax analysts, who offer reasons as varied as the matters that might be dubbed “genethical” for or against the morality of things that are actually possible, logically possible, and even just tenuously probable science fiction.

(Online publication January 11 2011)

John Coggon, L.L.B., Ph.D., is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, undertaking a research project, “Making Laws on Public Health: Regulation of Responsibilities and Freedom,” in the Institute for Science, Ethics, and Innovation, School of Law, at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom.