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Genes and Civil Liberties

Author(s): Philip L. Bereano

University of Washington, Seattle

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This lesson focuses on examining civil liberties issues as they relate to genetic research. Students can choose to represent an organization, real or fictional, that will report to a task force on civil liberties issues. Published in AIBS


Introduction to the lesson: 

Genetic technologies provide a new arena for tensions between our cherished ideals of liberty, order, justice, and fairness. Newspapers report the wonders such genetic knowledge can bring, but less often the threats for which these “advances” are also responsible. In reality, the ability to identify people and determine elements of their genetic profiles has significant downsides.

The dominant ideology in Western society holds that the only problems caused by technologies are either unintended side effects or abuses. However, technologies are not designed to benefit all segments of society equally. Because of their size, scale, and requirements for capital investments and knowledge, modern technologies can allow already-powerful groups to consolidate their powers.

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