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What is genethics?
  1. T Lewens
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr T Lewens
 Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH,UK;

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“Genethics” is a neologism probably best kept within scare quotes. Yet now that genethics has a Companion—Companion to Genethics, edited by Justine Burley and John Harris, Oxford, Blackwell, 2002, 489 pages, £65—it would appear that we can no longer keep our gloves on when handling the term. Burley and Harris’s enormous collection contains 34 articles, an introduction and an afterword.*

Most of the contributions are short (ten to twelve pages), many are new, a few are lifted from earlier work and some are lightly revised versions of earlier pieces. Topics range from the genetics of old age, to the Darwin wars and biotech patenting. The collection’s length and scope make it impossible to review comprehensively. In brief, many of the contributions are excellent. The pieces towards the end of the volume—Sorrell’s on insurance, Munzer’s on patents and property rights, Steiner’s on self ownership, to mention a few—are especially good at bringing serious philosophical analysis to questions of immediate political concern. A high proportion of the essays are devoted to issues of commercialising the genome and genetic research, and these are all good. The guides to further reading that come at the end of each article are also useful, although it is hard not to grin at an astonishing guide at the end of Dawkins’s piece on genetic determinism that includes all and only books by Richard Dawkins.

Rather than arbitrarily selecting an article or two for in depth treatment, or saying something intolerably brief about each of the contributions, let me instead use this essay to offer some reflections on the existence of the volume. What, exactly, is genethics, that it requires a companion? The obvious answer to that question is that genethics is the study of the ethical issues that arise out of the science of …

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  • * All page references are to the Companion, unless otherwise indicated.

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