Genetic Information: Questions and Worries from an African Background
Genetic Information: Acquisition, Access and Control, Plenum Publishing, 1999
Posted: 25 May 1999
Genetic information can be put to many possible uses. Some of these possible uses, such as in the prevention or treatment of illness, the improvement of farming or animal husbandry, are relatively uncontroversial and would be approved of and supported by peoples from all cultural backgrounds, subject only to procedural fairness. However, other uses to which genetic information might be put, such as in commerce, cloning and underwriting in insurance, are highly controversial and might be very differently perceived and appreciated from different cultural backgrounds. This does not necessarily imply cultural ethical relativism but only that cultural background and context are important in the perception and appreciation of ethical issues which, in themselves, were it possible to discuss and deliberate on them cross-culturally from the basis of real parity and fairness, would not be different for any moral/rational beings irrespective of particular context and cultural background. In this paper, I attempt to highlight some of the problems that might arise from the uses to which genetic information might be put from the point of view of traditional African culture which, though neither entirely homogenous nor technologically advanced, possesses certain relevant elements against the background of which such problems might be perceived and considered. Some of such cultural elements are the communal outlook on life, respect for nature in its manifold variety, mistrust of extraordinary knowledge, consideration of specialists as custodians rather than as possessors of knowledge, and the reluctance to commercialise certain things.
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