THE LIVES TO COME: The Genetic Revolution and Human Possibilities by Philip Kitcher

THE LIVES TO COME: The Genetic Revolution and Human Possibilities

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No doubt about it: The pace of biomedical progress raises religious, moral, and legal issues that demand attention. Here a noted writer on science and society addresses them. In the past, Kitcher (Philosophy/Univ. of Calif., San Diego; Vaulting Ambition, 1985, etc.) has taken to task creation science and sociobiology. Here he has no ax to grind with regard to the science itself--exemplified by the aim of the Human Genome Project to map all the genes in the human repertoire--but is concerned about how the new knowledge will be used. Not surprisingly, he argues strongly that no one should be penalized for carrying genes for disease or susceptibility to disease, as when blacks who inherited sickle cell trait were denied admission to the Air Force Academy. Unfortunately, there is the potential for even greater injustice in the future as medical records may reveal the genetic dossier of a newborn, which could then be read as destiny. To counter such determinism Kitcher argues that changes in development, the effects of other genes, a different environment, and the potential for genetic fixes all mean that genotype does not predict phenotype. However, he also admits that in some cases, the autosomal dominant Huntington's disease gene, for example, there appears to be no way to counter the eventual dementia and death of those who inherit it. Kitcher discusses at length the concept of ""utopian eugenics,"" which in an ideal society would allow reproductive choices based on education and without coercion. This, he avers, may be the road we have already embarked upon; if so, we had better ensure that there is freedom and access to care for all. Readers who are interested in the science of the genetics revolution will find answers here, but there are no easy answers to the social and ethical issues it raises. Kitcher lays out the territory and makes it clear that failing to explore it would be folly.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1996
ISBN: 0684827050
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster