10 - A conversational approach to the ethics of genetic testing  pp. 149-164

A conversational approach to the ethics of genetic testing

By Michael Parker

Image View Previous Chapter Next Chapter



Recognition and respect for personhood

In his book Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, Jonathan Glover suggests that the inhumane treatment of human beings is made possible by the failure or refusal to see them as persons (Glover 2001). It does not follow from this that the ability to see people as persons will necessarily lead one to respect their personhood. Nevertheless, it does suggest that the ability (or willingness) to recognise personhood in others, to see them as persons like ourselves, can have an important role to play in creating sensitivity to the morally relevant features of situations such as the one described by Anneke Lucassen, and it may mean that we are more likely as a result to be respectful of the personhood of those with whom we come into contact in our personal or professional lives. The demand for reciprocal recognition of and respect for personhood – that is the requirement that those making moral judgements ‘place themselves in the shoes’ of those about whom or for whom a decision is being made – has a long history in moral philosophy, as has another related requirement, that we should ‘treat others as we would wish ourselves to be treated’, the so-called Golden Rule. Why is this and why is it that the desires, wishes and interests of people are of special moral importance?

Berlin, I. (1969). Two concepts of liberty. In I. Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 131.
Daniels, N. (2000). Accountability for reasonableness. BMJ, 321, 1300–1.
Emanuel, E. J. and Emanuel, L. L. 1992. Four models of the physician–patient relationship. JAMA, 267, 2221–6.
General Medical Council. (2001). Confidentiality. London: General Medical Council.
Glover, J., (2001). Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century. London: Pimlico.
Harré, R. and Gillett, G. (1994). The Discursive Mind. London: Sage 99–111.
Harré, R., (1998). The Singular Self. London: Sage.
Harris, J., (1985). The Value of Life. London: Routledge.
Honneth, A. (1995). The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Locke, J. (1984). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Glasgow: William Collins, 211. [Originally published 1690.]
Mead, G. H. (1974). Mind, Self and Society. Chicago: Chicago University Press. [Originally published 1934.]
Parker, M. (1995). Growth of Understanding. Aldershot: Avebury.
Parker, M. (2001). Genetics and the interpersonal elaboration of ethics. Theoret Med Bioethics, 22, 451–9.
Parker, M. and Lucassen, A. (2004). Genetic Information: A Joint Account? BMJ, 329, 165–7.
Strawson, P. F., (1969). Individuals. London: Methuen.
Taylor, C. (1989). Sources of the Self. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 35–6.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1979). Consciousness as a problem of the psychology of behaviour. Soviet Psychol, 17, 29.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1991). The genesis of the higher mental functions. In P. Light, S. Sheldon and M. Woodhead, eds., Learning to Think. London: Routledge, 36.