Warning against the potential impact of behavioural genetics research, a UK think tank is urging a ban on selecting babies with genes linked to high intelligence.

This is just one of the recommendations from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which contributes to public policymaking by addressing issues such as genetic screening and stem cell therapy.

In an October 2, 2002 report called “Genetics and Human Behaviour: The Ethical Context,” the group deals with the ethical, legal and social issues raised by behavioural genetics — the search for genes that influence such things as intelligence, violence, personality traits and sexual orientation.

Specifically, the group addressed the following key areas:


  • Selection of embryos: While not yet possible, people may soon be able to select embryos for specific genetic traits such as intelligence. The report calls for embryo selection to remain restricted to screening for serious diseases.

  • Impact on the criminal justice system: Findings correlating genes with criminal behaviour could be used to excuse offenders. The report concludes that a criminal with specific genes shouldn’t be excused outright and that genetics should just be one factor among many that judges and juries evaluate.

  • Medicalization: There is the potential, the report warns, for behavioural genetics to exacerbate the prescription of drugs to alter behaviours society previously viewed as normal.

Despite its warnings, however, the group concludes that research into behavioural genetics should continue as it can increase our understanding of such things as mental health, antisocial behaviour and learning disabilities.


by Better Humans staff

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