Genetics and human behaviour: the ethical context


Published 01/10/2002

Cover for web
Research is exploring how genes and the environment influence behavioural traits such as aggression, anxiety, intelligence and sexual orientation.
Fetal scan

Public Consultation

A public consultation was held between March and July 2001. During this time 110 responses were received from a wide range of interested individuals and organisations. The Working Party would like to thank everyone who contributed to the consultation. The majority of the consultation responses are available to other researchers. Interested individuals or organisations should contact us.

You can still download the consultation paper.

The consultation asked some specific questions, including:

  • What do you think are the likely advantages and disadvantages of research in behavioural genetics?
  • Should genetic tests for behavioural traits and personality characteristics be developed? Why, or why not? Does this apply to all types of behavioural trait?
  • Would the pre-natal selection of behavioural and personality traits within the normal range be morally acceptable?
  • What are the implications for criminal justice, and the legal process generally, of research in behavioural genetics in the areas of aggression and antisocial behaviour?
  • How might health professionals, governments, employers, insurers, education authorities and others use genetic information concerning human behaviour?

Fact-finding Meetings

The working party held a number of fact-finding meetings with individuals and organisations as part of its research, including:

  • Professor Sir Michael Rutter, Department of Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatric Research, Institute of Psychiatry, London
  • Dr Jonathan Flint, Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, Oxford
  • Professor Andrew Heath, Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry and Associate Professor of Genetics, Missouri Alcohol Research Center, US
  • Dr V. Elving Anderson, Professor Emeritus, Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Minnesota, US
  • Professor Troy Duster, Director, Institute for the Study of Social Change, University of California, Berkeley, US
  • Dr Erik Parens, Director, The Hastings Center, US
  • Professor Søren Holm, Reader in Bioethics, Institute of Medicine Law and Bioethics, University of Manchester
  • Dr Audrey Chapman, Director, Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, American Association for the Advancement of Science, US
  • Professor Marcus Feldman, Professor of Population Biology, Stanford University, US