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(feminism) ETHICS help please? my try

Pearse Ward wardp at cuchullain.usask.ca
Sun Dec 4 17:01:20 EST 1994

In article <rs51.18.0013166B at cornell.edu>, rs51 at cornell.edu (Robin
Stephens) wrote:

> Katherine, it sounds like you have alot on your mind but I only wanted to 
> respond to yu query as to what stand to take on the availability of gentetic 
> tests as they are developed.  Much has been written on this as each 
> scientist who clones a gene is called by would be mothers.  I just want to 
> say that for my part, I believe that a scientist is responsible for the 
> implications of her work.  But not for the inventions of society concerning 
> the broader uses (a-bomb=future fusion energy).  I would not make 
> availabel a test which could only lead to death.  If there is a 
> possibility of improving care by early detection or embryo gene therapy, 
> then release it.  It is up to scientists because if you read the work of 
> these committees, we have one too, they're not worth a damn and the 
> scientists who talk to them seem to be self-promoting uh . . . white 
> males. Sorry gotta go. gnaw on that. robin 

I didn't reply to the original post because it specifically asked for the
opinions of female scientists, but I will make a comment here, if I may. 

If I understand Robin correctly she (he - no indication from the name)
would not "release" a test that screened for a genetic abnormality unless
therapy or treatment were already in place, since otherwise the results of
the test would likely lead to abortion in many cases.

I see two problems here. First, if I as a researcher set out to discover
the genetic cause for a disease, to gain an understanding of the process
and ultimately develop improved treatments, it is likely that a
consequence of my work (perhaps a necessary outcome) will be a way of
detecting the underlying genetic changes that lead to disease. Once
discovered, there can be no "undiscovery". That information will enter the
public domain and someone will be able to develop a screening test from
that work.

Knowing that this is a probable outcome of my proposed research should I
then; refuse to investigate the problem, thereby forgoing the possibility
of improved treatment or in the event that I do discover the underlying
genetic cause, suppress that information? I don't think either position is
tenable (for philisophical and ethical reasons rather than the pressing
need to pile up publications), so the question becomes how do we handle
the knowledge once it is revealed which is a sociological rather than a
scientific question. Do we as a society wish to ban genetic screening for
diseases which we cannot treat or cure? If you view this as the ethical
choice Robin, how do you reconcile this with a supposed right to absolute
reproductive control (a central tenet of orthodox feminist ideology)?

The second problem I have with this argument is the supposition that the
people who talk to the biological ethics committee are "self-promoting
white males". In the first instance this is insulting as it presupposes
that all white amle scientists are without ethics or morals (akin to
someone saying that female scientists don't have the brains or the stamina
to cut it in the big leagues), and secondly it is patently untrue. The
committees on reproductive technology and gene therapy in the US, UK, and
Canada all held public hearings and accepted briefs from a wide spectrum
of interest groups. Women's groups of various political stripes were well
represented, and presented briefs that ranged from "complete access to
genetic testing and abortion as a right" to "no genetic testing and
abortion is an abomination". Funny thing, the representation from males
covered an identical spectrum. The Royal Commission on Reproductive
Technology in Canada was chaired by Dr. Patricia Baird. The committee
members were >50% female, and they were so bitterly divided during the
preparation of the final report that several quit the committee and issued
a dissenting opnion.

The point is that there is no unified feminist perspective on any of these
issues. Women express almost an identical range of opinions on the topic
as their male colleagues, and both wrestle with the social implications of
their work in the same way.


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