Genetics and justice: must one theory fit all contexts?

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Abstract

Appeals to social justice that argue medicine and healthcare should have certain priorities and not others are common. It is an obvious question to ask: What does social justice demand of the new genetic technologies? However, it is important to note that there are many theories and sub-theories of justice. There are utilitarian theories, libertarian theories, and egalitarian theories. There are so-called luck egalitarians, equality-as-fairness thinkers, and capability theorists, with each having his or her own distinctive approach to the distribution of medical goods and technologies, and to healthcare priorities. This article argues that the discussion surrounding this question is potentially hampered by an implicit assumption that if one theory of justice is applicable in one context, then it must also be applicable in others. Instead, it is proposed that one adopt the stance, influenced by Michael Waltzer, that different theories with their opposing principles may be applicable to different questions regarding justice and genetics. The specific view advanced is that to answer questions about what justice requires regarding the therapeutic and enhancement use of genetic techniques, a method of reflective equilibrium can show how intuitions, in context, may support different theories of justice. When particular pre-theoretic ethical judgments are balanced against the theories that might explain or justify them, and are in accord with what seems emotionally acceptable, then it can be seen how different general theories may be applicable in the different contexts in which questions of justice and genetics arise.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)250-260
Number of pages11
JournalCambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
Volume27
Issue number2
Early online date6 Mar 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018

Keywords

  • theories of justice
  • bioethics
  • genetics
  • context

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