EDST 391 Ethics & the Human Genome
Ethical tug-of-war between genomic research and the law?
Kristen and Meredith's day!
- Stone, K.
The gene patents debate
link is http://pharma.about.com/od/Government_IP/i/Gene-Patents.htm
- Haederle, M. (2010).
mind: Will the new neuroscience undermine our legal system?,
Miller-McCune Magazine, March-April, pages 70-79.
- Please note that this article is not about genomics, but about
how brain phenotypes (structure and function of the
biological brain) might create susceptibility to criminal
behavior. It does, however, illustrate the notion of biological
determinism. That is what is important here.
- Recommended: Review last chapter of Genome on free will.
- Required: Please keep in mind the following legal distinctions when
and discuss the
second required article.
There are three sequential steps in a criminal case: indictment,
of guilt (if indicted)
sentencing (if convicted). The accused's degree of responsibility is
considered at each
Please also keep in mind that there are strict rules of evidence
that also control what expert witnesses may say in court. Their
must now meet minimal scientific standards, as determined by the judge.
There are often separate "Daubert hearings" to thrash out what
supposedly "scientific" claims experts
and may not introduce into evidence.
- Indictment phase:
An indictment is a written statement by the prosecutor
that formally charges a person with a crime.
prosecutor will review the arrest, the person's criminal history,
take various factors into account
charges should be filed against the individual. For instance,
killing another person is not always murder (just manslaughter), and
there are different degrees of murder. Generally (depending on the state)
first-degree murder is intent to kill
(usually with premeditation), second is
intent to harm without intent to kill (victim died of their injury),
third-degree murder is a killing that resulted
from indifference or negligence (such as child neglect)
and fourth is
felony murder committed by an accomplice.
- Guilt phase: "Guilt" requires that prosecutors prove both a
"guilty act" (actus reus)
and (2) "guilty mind" (mens reus).
Genetic forensics can help
a jury decide the first question but generally not the second. The
defendant's lawyer can argue that their client lacked a "guilty
mind" in basically two ways: the defendent either
had no choice (someone else
forced them to commit the crime on pain of death) or was incapable of
of forming the intent
to do wrong (for example, they lacked the mental capacity to distinguish
from wrong). The latter would include "not-guilty by reason of insanity,"
which means the individual will be confined to a hospital instead of a
- Sentencing phase: Sentences can differ a lot for the
same criminal act depending on the
specifics of the case. The sentence may be harsher or lighter--assign
greater vs. lesser moral
culpability--for aggravating or mitigating
For instance, characteristics of the perpetrator
or victim (child) can determine whether the convicted individual
is sentenced to life or death.
- (Relevant to Kristen's topic) New genomic technologies are creating
new ethical challenges.
Some people say that we need new laws to regulate these technologies
so they are used in an
- Describe one new
law that you might want
enacted to assure the ethical use of some genomic technology? Your
law should either forbid,
require, or allow some particular use (at least in some
- Why? What is its ethical aim?
- Concise, thoughtful half page.
- (Relevant to Meredith's topic) New genomic knowledge is being used to
ethical basis of
existing criminal law. Specifically, some people say that genetic
susceptibility to crime undercuts the
legal presumption that criminals have free will. Without free will they
cannot be held responsible
for their crimes. It's the "genes may be do it" defense. We will discuss
this in class.
- Introduction:Here is a different question. As we have read
the course, many scientists and physicians argue that
early detection of genomic abnormalities is important for
preventing illness and disease. They say it is their ethic
to prevent harm.
- Task: Evaluate the following claim. "We should we
criminal behavior. If scientists and physicians are able to
assess genetic susceptibility to crime,
they have a duty to diagnose it early in order to prevent its
development." Why or why not?
- Concise, thoughtful half page.
- There will be a short quiz at the beginning of class.