Genetics and human behaviour: the ethical context

Report

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

This report addresses concerns over how this information could be used to try to predict, change or select such traits.

Key findings

We conclude that research in behavioural genetics does have the potential to advance our understanding of human behaviour, and so should be allowed to continue. However, it is important to ensure there are safeguards to protect against its misuse.

As yet, there are no practical applications of research in behavioural genetics but it is not too early to start thinking about future developments. We call on policy makers to begin to consider how to monitor and regulate the potential applications of this research. It is also important that organisations which fund research are aware of the concerns of the public.

There is a need for well-informed public debate about these issues. Using phrases like a ‘gene for X’ is misleading, and claims of discoveries are often exaggerated. This is an extremely sensitive, and potentially explosive, area of research, and we stress the need for careful reporting.

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