Genetics and Evolution

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
A Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Mind So RareA Natural History of RapeAcquiring GenomesAdapting MindsAgeing, Health and CareAlas, Poor DarwinAn Introduction to Evolutionary EthicsAncient Bodies, Modern LivesAnimal ArchitectsAping MankindAre We Hardwired?Bang!BehavingBeyond EvolutionBeyond GeneticsBlood MattersBody BazaarBoneBrain Evolution and CognitionBrain StormBrave New BrainBrave New WorldsChoosing ChildrenCloneCloningConceptual Issues in Evolutionary BiologyConsciousness EvolvingContemporary Debates in Philosophy of BiologyControlling Our DestiniesCooperation and Its EvolutionCreatures of AccidentDarwin Loves YouDarwin's Brave New WorldDarwin's Gift to Science and ReligionDarwin's UniverseDarwin's WormsDarwinian ConservatismDarwinian PsychiatryDarwinism and its DiscontentsDarwinism as ReligionDebating DesignDecoding DarknessDefenders of the TruthDo We Still Need Doctors?Doubting Darwin?Early WarningEngineering the Human GermlineEnhancing EvolutionEnoughEntwined LivesEthical Issues in Human CloningEthical Issues in the New GeneticsEvil GenesEvolutionEvolutionEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorEvolution and LearningEvolution and ReligionEvolution and the Human MindEvolution in MindEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolution: The Modern SynthesisEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Origins of MoralityEvolutionary PsychiatryEvolutionary PsychologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolutionary Psychology as Maladapted PsychologyExploding the Gene MythFaces of Huntington'sFlesh of My FleshFrom Chance to ChoiceFrom Darwin to HitlerGenesGenes in ConflictGenes on the CouchGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Women, EqualityGenetic Nature/CultureGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetic SecretsGenetics in the MadhouseGenetics of Criminal and Antisocial BehaviourGenetics of Mental DisordersGenetics of Original SinGenetics of Original SinGenomeGenomeGenome: Updated EditionGenomes and What to Make of ThemGlowing GenesHow Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So StoriesHuman CloningHuman Evolution, Reproduction, and MoralityImproving Nature?In Our Own ImageIn Pursuit of the GeneIn the Name of GodIngenious GenesInheritanceInside the Human GenomeInside the O'BriensIntegrating Evolution and DevelopmentIntelligence, Race, and GeneticsIs Human Nature Obsolete?Language OriginsLess Than HumanLiberal EugenicsLiving with Our GenesMaking Genes, Making WavesMaking Sense of EvolutionMan As The PrayerMean GenesMenMood GenesMoral OriginsMothers and OthersNature Via NurtureNever Let Me GoNot By Genes AloneOf Flies, Mice, and MenOn the Origin of StoriesOrigin of MindOrigins of Human NatureOrigins of PsychopathologyOur Posthuman FuturePhilosophy of BiologyPlaying God?Playing God?Portraits of Huntington'sPrimates and PhilosophersPromiscuityPsychiatric Genetics and GenomicsPsychologyQuality of Life and Human DifferenceRe-creating MedicineRedesigning HumansResearch Advances in Genetics and GenomicsResponsible GeneticsResponsible GeneticsScience, Seeds and CyborgsSex and WarSociological Perspectives on the New GeneticsStrange BedfellowsStrange BehaviorSubjects of the WorldSubordination and DefeatThe Age of EmpathyThe Agile GeneThe Ape and the Sushi MasterThe Biotech CenturyThe Blank SlateThe Book of LifeThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Bridge to HumanityThe Case Against PerfectionThe Case for PerfectionThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Century of the GeneThe Common ThreadThe Concept of the Gene in Development and EvolutionThe Debated MindThe Double-Edged HelixThe Epidemiology of SchizophreniaThe Ethics of Choosing ChildrenThe Ethics of Human CloningThe Evolution of CooperationThe Evolution of MindThe Evolution of MindThe Evolved ApprenticeThe Evolving WorldThe Extended Selfish GeneThe Fact of EvolutionThe Folly of FoolsThe Future of Human NatureThe God GeneThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Impact of the GeneThe Innate MindThe Innate MindThe Innate Mind: Volume 3The Limits and Lies of Human Genetic ResearchThe Lives of the BrainThe Maladapted MindThe Meme MachineThe Misunderstood GeneThe Moral, Social, and Commercial Imperatives of Genetic Testing and ScreeningThe Most Dangerous AnimalThe New Genetic MedicineThe Nurture AssumptionThe Origin and Evolution of CulturesThe Origins of FairnessThe Paradoxical PrimateThe Perfect BabyThe Robot's RebellionThe Selfish GeneThe Shape of ThoughtThe Shattered SelfThe Stem Cell ControversyThe Story WithinThe Stuff of LifeThe Talking ApeThe Temperamental ThreadThe Terrible GiftThe Theory of OptionsThe Top 10 Myths About EvolutionThe Triple HelixThe Triumph of SociobiologyThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaTwinsUnderstanding CloningUnderstanding the GenomeUnnatural SelectionUnto OthersUp From DragonsVoracious Science and Vulnerable AnimalsWar Against the WeakWhat Genes Can't DoWhat It Means to Be 98 Percent ChimpanzeeWho Owns YouWhose View of Life?Why Evolution Is TrueWhy Think? WondergenesWrestling with Behavioral GeneticsYour Genetic Destiny

Related Topics
From Chance to ChoiceReview - From Chance to Choice
Genetics and Justice
by Allen Buchanan, Dan W. Brock, Norman Daniels, and Daniel Wikler
Cambridge Univeristy Press, 2000
Review by Tor Lezemore
Feb 16th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 7)

You would be forgiven for thinking that the most important and difficult ethical questions that have arisen as a result of advances in genetics this century centre around insurance policies. Here in the UK at least, practical problems such as whether insurers should know of an individual's Huntington's disease test result seem to attract the most attention from policy makers and the media. But the sequencing of the human genome has brought with it dilemmas of a significantly more troubling nature that will have a profound impact on our understanding of healthcare and human nature that have yet to be adequately addressed.

These dilemmas arise because of our new ability to choose the genetic characteristics of future people. We have already experienced widespread genetic screening of fetuses for diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Tay Sachs disease, and we know that one's risk of developing late-onset disorders including some types of breast cancer and Alzheimer's disease can be fairly accurately assessed. These developments progress slowly and sporadically, and new techniques that enable such selection to take place without the need for abortion have yet to enter 'mainstream' health services. Consequently, ethical concerns are frequently addressed either with reference to one particular disease or screening programme, or in the context of the abortion debate, rather than from a longer term, more reflective perspective.

From Chance to Choice is a notable exception. Its motivating premise is that our new genetic knowledge has significant implications for our basic principles of justice. Previously, discussions of justice have considered equal access to resources or the equal distribution of resources as alternative interpretations of what egalitarianism requires. In this book, the authors expound 'the brute luck view' of equal opportunity which states that one should not have lesser opportunities because of matters that are unchosen, or not within their control. A fairly uncontroversial example might be that children born into families that cannot afford to pay university tuition fees ought to be offered scholarships. But applied to genetics, the authors come up with the much more controversial suggestion that as well as distributing resources and opportunities fairly, there should also be a fair distribution of person-constituting characteristics. They focus primarily on genetic characteristics linked to illness rather than social skills or behavioural traits, formulating a surprisingly plausible policy of allowing every individual to be free of 'disease genes', while simultaneously deflecting the charges of stigma and discrimination that are inevitably aimed at anyone who suggests that some forms of suffering might be best avoided. Thus, for the authors, an individual born with cystic fibrosis ought to receive treatment to cure this disease and restore him/her to the state of the 'normal competitor'. They suggest that only when we are able to cure all genetic conditions, ideally before birth, will we be able to ensure that people are truly born equal.

The book spends considerable time on the related questions of the distinctions between health and disease, and between treatment and enhancement. This is no doubt because one of the four authors is responsible for one of the most comprehensive analyses of health and normality in recent years. However, his work really deserves either its own book, or a shorter exposition in this one. The sections on these distinctions are also coloured, to a non-US reader, by an underlying attitude about the way in which healthcare is and should be delivered. You get the feeling that the authors ignore valid philosophical arguments because of the pressing requirement to fit their policy suggestions into the US healthcare framework.

In the second half of the book, the authors tackle the intriguing philosophical problem of reproductive choice and causing harm to future generations. It is often suggested that the negative effect on individual children of their parents' failure to use prenatal genetic tests cannot be calculated, since any child with a genetic disorder would necessarily not have been born had such tests been used. Instead, a healthy embryo with a different set of genes would have been conceived or implanted. The authors wade their way through this messy argument and emerge at the other side with a convincing set of policy recommendations to which I can't do justice in a short review.

A noticeable feature of almost all 'popular' science books that concern themselves with human genetics is the tendency to pose a series of dramatic ethical questions at the end of a chapter, without offering an answer to any of them. From Chance to Choice is one of few books that sets out to look deep into the heart of these dilemmas, to understand why they arise, and to suggest answers based on clear and thorough reasoning. As such, whether you agree with the final policy recommendations or not, it is a vital and important addition to the morass of frequently superficial 'popular' writing that is spreading its way across genetics.

Tor Lezemore works in the bioethics field for the Nuffield Council, the UK's only independent national bioethics council. She has a Philosophy degree from the University of Cambridge and an MA in Medical Ethics and Law from Kings College London.


Welcome to Metapsychology. We feature over 8200 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than twenty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!

Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716