Lecturer ponders morality of genealogy
Eric T. Juengst, Associate Professor of Bioethics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio visited Bowdoin to lecture about the philosophical implications of human genome research.
The lecture was the first presentation in the Howard Hughes Medical Symposia on Human Genetics and Bioethics at Bowdoin. Funded by an $800,000 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Genetics Symposia Project is a collaboration between Bowdoin and the Southern Maine genetics Services of the Foundation for Blood Research in Scarborough. Juengst's lecture is the first of two Symposia that will occur every year till 2004.
Juengst's lecture reflected his research interests and publications that focus on the ethical concerns brought up in human genetics and biotechnology. According to Juengst's lecture, the three major components of the bioethics debate are genetic imperialism, genetic contagionism, and genetic humoralism. Genetic imperialism is the idea that all disease is a genetic disease which could possibly give doctors and medical researchers a right to study and find cures for physical problems that might be considered unjust by others. Genetic contagionism presents the problem of how morality in taking steps to strategize people's reproductive plans to purify the gene pool. Genetic humoralism asks doctors and researches at what point it is right to start treating someone for a disease. Should they be treated for breast cancer, if they have it, or if they are at risk for having it because of a certain genetic predisposition?
Other important points of Juengst's lecture was the idea of anti-aging medecine as prevention and the need to understand similarities and differences in people to find appropriate medicines. He said the issue youths should focus on in the field of bioethics is "the old question of race and ethnicity and respecting people's moral equality in face of obvious genetic diversity."
After earning his B.S. in biology from the University of the South in 1978 and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Georgetown University in 1985, Juengst taught medical ethics and the philosophy of science at the University of California, San Francisco and Penn State University.
From 1990 to 1994, he was the first chief of the Ethical Legal and Social Implications Branch of the National Center for Human Genome Research at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Juengst has also been on the ethics committee of the American Society for Gene Therapy, the national ethics committee of the March of Dimes, the U.S. Recombinant DNA Advisory Board of the FBI, and the editorial boards of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Human Gene Therapy, The American Journal of Medical Genetics, Medical Humanities Reviews, and Community Genetics.
Elected as a fellow of the Hastings Center in 2000 and appointed to the NIH National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research in 2002, Juengst's newest pursuit is as the genetics area editor for the Encyclopedia of Bioethics, third edition.