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The Right to Genetic Ignorance Confirmed

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One of the much debated issues around the evolving human genetics is the question of the right to know versus the right not to know. The core question of this theme is whether an individual has the right to know about her own genetic constitution and further, does she also have the right to remain in ignorance. Within liberal traditions it is usually held that people, if they so wish, have the right to all the knowledge available about themselves. This right is based on the value of autonomy or on the right of self-determination, and it is sometimes partly justified as a countermeasure to the authorities' control over people. I do not wish to deny the right to genetic knowledge (about oneself). I think that its existence is self-evident. The argument I want to put forth in this paper is that in liberal societies we should acknowledge people’s right to remain in ignorance as well. The only reason for not doing this would be that grave harm to others would follow if people were allowed to make these seemingly self-regarding decisions. Arguments presented against the right to ignorance are twofold. First there are those arguing against the right to ignorance on the grounds of harm to others, that is, philosophers who do not deny people’s right to ignorance in self-related matters but wish to state that genetic ignorance causes harm to others, and this is one of the most commonly accepted reason for restricting people’s freedom. The other line of argument flows from the Kantian view that not even merely self-regarding foolishness (in the eyes of others) should be allowed.

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: Universities of Helsinki and Turku

Publication date: 1999-07-01

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