The Meaning of Human Gene Testing for Disability Rights

Posted: 29 Jul 2003

See all articles by Edward Larson

Edward Larson

Pepperdine University - Rick J. Caruso School of Law


Human gene testing has the potential of changing the way that genetic "disabilities" are perceived. This article uses the perspective of America's early 20th century experience with eugenics to identify risks posed by human gene testing for the rights of persons with genetic "disabilities." On this framework, the article then analyzes these risks in light of current conditions. Many of the consequences flowing from eugenics a century ago are no longer likely to follow today. Other risks remain. The article concludes that there is much less likelihood of overt discrimination against persons with disabilities today than in the heyday of eugenics, and that more legal protections for such persons exist today than in the past, but that subtle risks remain.

The article was originally delivered as the 2001-02 William Howard Taft Lecture at University of Cincinnati School of Law. Chief Justice Taft concurred in Buck v. Bell, the 1927 Supreme Court decision upholding Virginia's compulsory eugenic sterilization law.

Keywords: Human Genome Project, human gene testing, medical ethics, eugenics

Suggested Citation

Larson, Edward J., The Meaning of Human Gene Testing for Disability Rights. University of Cincinnati Law Review, Vol. 70, 2002. Available at SSRN:

Edward J. Larson (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University - Rick J. Caruso School of Law ( email )

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