Ethics and Genetics

  • Telling people their behavior is because of their genes has several ethical considerations
    • There can be anxiety for the parents and children
    • Should you tell parents that they have a short serotonin transporter gene and may have passed on this gene to their children?
  • Stigmas can be attached like for the 'psychopath gene'
    • It is unlikely that all males with XYY chromosomes are criminals
  • If genes are linked to intelligence then being told you have 'stupid genes' may make you feel powerless
Criminal Genes (Barnes et al., 2011)
  • Their research found that genes may affect whether people choose a life of crime
  • This kind of research can brand criminal gene possessors as incapable of changing because they are simply born criminals
  • Therefore criminals with these genes may be less inclined to change
    • They may even believe change isn't possible
  • Using the criminal gene argument in court could lead the jury to reduce the sentence for the offender because the crime wasn't his/her fault
    • Is this what psychological research should be used for?
Addiction Genes (Morozova et al., 2012)
  • PKNOX2 gene has been linked to addictive behavior
  • Children can acquire the PKNOX2 gene from their parents
  • Is it ethical to tell the parents that their genes may be responsible for their child's addition?
  • Telling substance abusers that it is because of their genes removes personal responsibility
  • They may feel powerless to break their addiction
Depressed Genes (Collier et al., 1996)
  • 5-HTT serotonin gene has two versions
  • Short version produces less serotonin
  • Long version produces more serotonin
  • Bipolar and depressed patients are more likely to have the short transporter gene
  • Telling patients they have the short transporter gene may be counterproductive to therapy because they feel they are destined to be depressed or bipolar by their genes
  • Telling parents may make them feel responsible for their child's mental disorder

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