Genetics and human behaviour: the ethical context


Published 01/10/2002

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Research is exploring how genes and the environment influence behavioural traits such as aggression, anxiety, intelligence and sexual orientation.
Fetal scan
  1. To define and consider ethical, social and legal issues arising from the study of the genetics of variation within the normal range of behavioural characteristics.[1]
  2. To survey the current field of research, in particular, to review:
    1. the evidence for the relative importance of genetic influences;
    2. the basis for characterisation and measurement of behaviour;
    3. the relationship between normal variation in behaviour and disease processes.
  3. To consider potential applications of the research.
  4. To consider:
    1. the ethics of undertaking research on the genetics of normal variation in behavioural characteristics[2] on human participants[3];
    2. the implications of applying the findings of such research through the development of genetic tests to establish particular characteristics in practical contexts including education, employment, insurance, legal proceedings;
    3. the particular impact of the findings of a genetic test on the individual, including an individual child or fetus, on family members, and on various social groups;
    4. the broader impact of genetic knowledge on the perception of those with relevant behavioural characteristics, including questions about stigma.


[1] And to identify the issues which are additional or complementary to those dealt with in the Council’s report on Mental Disorders and Genetics: the ethical context.

[2] Including, for example, research on intelligence, antisocial behaviour, sexual orientation and addiction.

[3] Including ethnic groupings, criminal offenders, and children.