Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Updated eLS Entry Now Published

My expanded and updated entry in the Encyclopedia of Life Sciences is now published (subscription needed). The title of the 3500 word entry is "Distributive Justice and Genetics". Here is a sample from the introduction:

All human beings begin life with a bundle of natural endowments they inherit from their parents. Genes are the fundamental physical and functional units of heredity and thus they can have a dramatic impact on our expected life-time acquisition of what the philosopher John Rawls (1971) calls the ‘natural primary goods’- health, vigor, intelligence and imagination. A child that inherits the genes implicated in a single-gene disorder, like Cystic Fibrosis or Fragile X Syndrome, can suffer premature death or severe cognitive impairment. At the other end of the spectrum of the genetic lottery of life are those fortunate individuals that inherit the ‘longevity genes’ associated with healthy longevity. Such individuals might enjoy a century of disease-free life. Rapid advances in the biomedical sciences, such as the development of gene therapies for Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Fragile X Syndrome, etc., and the development of potential ‘anti-aging’ molecules that could activate or mimic longevity genes, raise a plethora of ethical questions and societal concerns. Theories of justice attempt to help clarify what these problems and concerns are, as well as offer some general prescriptions concerning how we can better realize the distinct demands of justice. The genetic revolution raises a number of challenges for contemporary theories of justice.

And the abstract:

What will the demands of distributive justice be in the post‐genetic revolutionary world? Will genetic inheritance be regarded as socially distributed goods? This may seem a more reasonable position to assert as biotechnology progresses further toward human genetic manipulation. Advances in human genetics raise a number of unique considerations for theories of justice, ranging from the realisation of egalitarian ideals and the therapy/enhancement distinction to the scope and limits of reproductive freedom. As new empirical discoveries are made concerning the environmental and natural determinants of human welfare, theories of justice must re‐conceptualise what the demands of justice are and how society can fairly distribute the natural and social goods which influence the life prospects of humans.