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Biotechnology, Genetic Information, and Community

From Individual Rights to Social Duties?
  • Sirkku Kristiina Hellsten

Abstract

One of the main ethical problems in biomedical issues has been deciding who should have access to our genetic information and why. In this article I set this issue along with other ethical problems of biomedicine within a framework based on the contemporary liberal-communitarian debate, and discuss whether individual rights or social duties should have priority in the use of genetic or other health related information. However, instead of attempting to provide a clear normative stand, I want to discuss this issue from the point of view of analytical political philosophy. This means that my purpose is to clarify the complex relationship between the liberal ideal of political justice, the communitarian ethical approach and individual’s moral judgement in the issues of biomedicine. My starting point is the contemporary shift of emphasis from the liberal concept of justice towards a more communitarian ethical approach. This can be seen in the Western world in the recent tendency to supplement and balance individual rights with considerations of individual responsibilities.1 What I see should be acknowledge here is that even if the promotion of individuals’ social duties is now evidently gaining emphasis in Western medical practice, the academic discussions as well as political and legal debates are still mainly based on the ethical demands of informed consent, individual autonomy and individual rights. This may lead us to a curious situation in which explicitly individualistic and liberal philosophical, political and legal discourse still uses the language of rights,2 while in practice there is, at least implicitly, increasing social pressure for individuals to accept their social duties and give ‘the common good’ priority over their personal moral judgement.

Keywords

Genetic Information Moral Duty Health Related Information Individual Morality Liberal Concept 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sirkku Kristiina Hellsten
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Practical PhilosophyUniversity of HelsinkiFinland

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