Document Type

Article

Publication Title

Brooklyn Law Review

Publication Date

2000

Abstract

Decoding the human genome and identifying genetic sequences may provide, among other things, for the production of individually tailored drugs, for medicines without side effects, and perhaps eventually for gene therapy that will replace dysfunctional genes with genes that preclude or cure illness." But, the same developments threaten society with the potential for devastating biological accidents, with broad invasions of individual and communal privacy, and with "genetic" bigotry and the revival of eugenic policies.

Behind the concrete promises and threats that attend the new genetics lies another sort of change-more subtle than those more usually, and more easily, described and assessed, but as important. In particular, developments in molecular biology will likely alter-and in certain contexts have already begun to alter-the ideological frame within which people define themselves and their actions.

This Article identifies and explores the ramifications of one such change. This change involves a fundamental shift in the locus of social value from the autonomous individual-long the central agent of thought and action in most domains of life' in the post-Enlightenment West-to a larger whole, defined through the presumption of a shared genome. Among the consequences of this change are two evolving conceptions of a "genetic family" and a "genetic ethnic group." Each threatens to eviscerate a set of basic values related almost exclusively to the autonomous individual. Among those values are privacy, equality, and choice. This Article focuses on potential consequences of this shift in the locus of social value for familial and for ethnic and racial groups.' The widespread availability of genetic information may create, and appear to validate, negative images of groups defined through reference to DNA and alter understandings of personhood that now prompt the law to protect privacy, and to prohibit ethnic and racial discrimination.

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