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Gene–environment interaction: why genetic enhancement might never be distributed fairly
  1. Sinead Prince
  1. Faculty of Business and Law, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Sinead Prince, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia; sinead.prince{at}


Ethical debates around genetic enhancement tend to include an argument that the technology will eventually be fairly accessible once available. That we can fairly distribute genetic enhancement has become a moral defence of genetic enhancement. Two distribution solutions are argued for, the first being equal distribution. Equality of access is generally believed to be the fairest and most just method of distribution. Second, equitable distribution: providing genetic enhancements to reduce social inequalities. In this paper, I make two claims. I first argue that the very assumption that genetic enhancements can be distributed fairly is problematic when considering our understanding of gene–environment interactions, for example, epigenetics. I then argue that arguments that genetic enhancements are permissible because the intended benefits can be distributed fairly as intended are misinformed. My first claim rests on the assertion that genetic enhancements do not enhance traits in a vacuum; genes are dependent on conducive environments for expression. If society cannot guarantee fair environments, then any benefit conferred from being genetically enhanced will be undermined. Thus, any argument that the distribution of genetic enhancements will be fair and that the technology is therefore morally permissible, is mistaken.

  • Genetic Enhancement
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Ethics
  • Morals

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  • Contributors The listed author meets the four criteria of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals. There are no other authors that contributed to this paper. SP is the sole contributor to this manuscript and is responsible for the overall content as the guarantor.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.