J Med Ethics 32:635-638 doi:10.1136/jme.2005.013532
  • Genetics

The routinisation of genomics and genetics: implications for ethical practices

  1. M W Foster1,
  2. C D M Royal2,
  3. R R Sharp3
  1. 1Department of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, USA
  2. 2National Human Genome Center, Howard University, Washington, DC, USA
  3. 3Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Morris W Foster
 Department of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma, 455 W Lindsey, Rm 505C, Norman, OK 73019, USA; morris.w.foster-1{at}
  • Received 11 July 2005
  • Accepted 21 November 2005
  • Revised 3 November 2005


Among bioethicists and members of the public, genetics is often regarded as unique in its ethical challenges. As medical researchers and clinicians increasingly combine genetic information with a range of non-genetic information in the study and clinical management of patients with common diseases, the unique ethical challenges attributed to genetics must be re-examined. A process of genetic routinisation that will have implications for research and clinical ethics, as well as for public conceptions of genetic information, is constituted by the emergence of new forms of genetic medicine, in which genetic information is interpreted in a multifactorial frame of reference. Although the integration of genetics in medical research and treatment may be a helpful corrective to the mistaken assumptions of genetic essentialism or determinism, the routinisation of genetics may have unintended consequences for the protection of genetic information, perceptions of non-genetic information and the loss of genetic research as a laboratory for exploring issues in research and clinical ethics. Consequently, new ethical challenges are presented by the increasing routinisation of genetic information in both biomedical and public spheres.


  • Competing interests: None.