Genomics and justice: mitigating the potential harms and inequities that arise from the implementation of genomics in medicine

A. J. Clarke*, C. G. van el

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Advances in human genetics raise many social and ethical issues. The application of genomic technologies to healthcare has raised many questions at the level of the individual and the family, about conflicts of interest among professionals, and about the limitations of genomic testing. In this paper, we attend to broader questions of social justice, such as how the implementation of genomics within healthcare could exacerbate pre-existing inequities or the discrimination against social groups. By anticipating these potential problems, we hope to minimise their impact. We group the issues to address into six categories: (i) access to healthcare in general, not specific to genetics. This ranges from healthcare insurance to personal behaviours. (ii) data management and societal discrimination against groups on the basis of genetics. (iii) epigenetics research recognises how early life exposure to stress, including malnutrition and social deprivation, can lead to ill health in adult life and further social disadvantage. (iv) psychiatric genomics and the genetics of IQ may address important questions of therapeutics but could also be used to disadvantage specific social or ethnic groups. (v) complex diseases are influenced by many factors, including genetic polymorphisms of individually small effect. A focus on these polygenic influences distracts from environmental factors that are more open to effective interventions. (vi) population genomic screening aims to support couples making decisions about reproduction. However, this remains a highly contentious area. We need to maintain a careful balance of the competing social and ethical tensions as the technology continues to develop.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1099-1107
Number of pages9
JournalHuman Genetics
Issue number5
Early online date2022
Publication statusPublished - May 2022

Cite this