DNA and Ethics



Eighteenth Annual Darwin College Lecture Series 2003

Lecture 4   :   7 February 2003

Dr Onora O'Neill
Newnham College, Cambridge


We aren't short of public discussion of ethical issues arising from genetic knowledge. Enthusiasts and scaremongers fill the columns and the airwaves with their hopes and fears about 'designer babies', GM crops, pharmacogenetics and a future in which everyone carries a genetic smart card. Each of these possibilities, like any other complicated change, would raise ethical issues. But the ethical issues that we actually face are rather different. Many have to do with the use and control of genetic information. Is genetic information exceptional? Are there good reasons to control access to it more tightly than we control access to other sorts of personal or medical information? Does genetic information 'belong' to individuals or to families? Could there be a 'right to know' the results of DNA tests taken by relatives, or a 'right not to know'-- or both? How informed do we have to be to give informed consent to genetic tests?


Onora O'Neill is Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge. She lectures in the faculties of Philosophy and History and Philosophy of Science, and has written books and articles in ethics, political philosophy, on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and on bioethics.

She is a former member and chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Human Genetics Advisory Commission, and chairs the Nuffield Foundation. She is a Member of the House of Lords (Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve), sits as a crossbencher and was a member of the Select Committee on Stem Cell Research.

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