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Law and MedicineCurrent Legal Issues Volume 3$
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Michael Freeman and Andrew Lewis

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780198299189

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198299189.001.0001

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Law, Society, and the New Genetics

Law, Society, and the New Genetics

Law, Society, and the New Genetics
Law and Medicine

Robert Dingwall

Oxford University Press

It has been suggested that, if the 19th century was the century of chemistry and the 20th the century of physics, the 21st will be the century of biology. The technologies unlocked by the specification of the structure of DNA and subsequent fundamental advances in molecular biology promise — or threaten — to reshape human relations with the natural world as much as have the contributions of organic chemistry and nuclear physics. Alongside this science of small entities, we have also seen an upsurge in the corresponding science of large entities or systems which has at different times variously been termed social biology, sociobiology, or population biology. In the space between these levels, we find a science of the interaction or, more particularly, of the implications of the micro for the macro. Much confusion can arise, and has arisen, from the assimilation of these levels to one perceived social or scientific movement, the so-called ‘New Genetics’. This chapter attempts to demonstrate a sociological perspective on the social implications of this new technology and to contrast this with the currently dominant voices of bioethical commentary originating from philosophy, theology, and critical theory. The first section defines and distinguishes the levels of the scientific movement. This chapter examines each level in turn through a socio-legal lens to identify the issues that they seem to raise for law, policy, and social analysis. The final section of the chapter considers the extent to which these issues can be resolved by reference to some disinterested body of ethical analysis or whether the claims of bioethics should be seen as part of the problem as much as part of the answer.

Keywords:   bioethics, new genetics, molecular biology, social biology, ethical analysis, social implications

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