Ethics and the Human Genome

Due April 14 (Rewrite due April 28)
Typed, double-spaced, stapled, and with pages numbered
2 copies
Length is flexible, but aim for 5-7 pages.
Please attach a completed Writer Response form to the copy for your fellow.
Formatting guidelines and grading rubric


Ethics is about where to draw the line between moral right and wrong, and why. There are different ethical perspectives on which sorts of pros and cons are considered and given most weight. For your project you have picked a realm of decision making where the use of genomic technologies is controversial, precisely because there are disagreements about which of its uses would be good or bad, right or wrong. In this paper, you will try to get to the heart of the ethical debate. This will not be a book report or simple description of what the various sides argue, but an analysis of where the various sides are trying to draw the line, and why.


  1. You are an independent consultant who is known for getting to the heart of current debates in applied ethics. The governor of your state is besieged by interest groups on all sides on topic X (...your topic...). S/he asks you to provide a broader perspective on what is truly at issue in the debate over X--to cut through the rhetoric to reveal the more fundamental clash of personal interests and moral considerations.  S/he wants your analysis before formulating her/his own views for presentation to the legislature next month when it considers the bills before it.
  2. Provide enough background--but no more--on the current state of the science, technology, and controversy so that the reader (each legislator) will know enough basic facts to follow your subsequent analysis.  (Note that some of these facts may best be woven throughout your analysis if, for example, they concern unappreciated possibilities and limitations of the proposed technologies.)
  3. Analyze the ethical arguments being put forward. First, where is each side trying to draw the moral line (for example, what's over the line), and what are its reasons for drawing the line there? Second, to which principles or ethical systems do the different sides appeal (or ignore) to make their cases for "where" and "why"?
  4. Then give your considered judgment to the governor about which considerations s/he should weigh most heavily, and why--in his/her role as an elected representative in the state (not as a private citizen).


Grading criteria See Paper Formatting and Grading Rubric for general guidelines.

  1. Content
    • Provides background on the science or technology in question (using at least 2 outside sources)
    • Describes the key arguments & counterarguments in the controversy over this technology (using at least 2 outside sources)
    • Analyzes these arguments & counterarguments to reveal which ethical principles they call upon or ignore (e.g., virtue-, duty-, or consequences-based ethical principles; or medical ethics such as beneficience, autonomy, etc.). Note: Being general, these principles will be applicable to many issues, not just yours.
    • Does not personally take a side in the debate, but does make recommendations on what what the governor, as the highest elected representative of the state, ought to decide.
  2. Quality
    • Paper is focused, well-organized, & clearly written
    • Claims & descriptions backed up with relevant evidence from reliable sources
    • Demonstrates understanding of the competing ethical principles involved (NOTE: labeling is not important; understanding is)
    • Presents all sides fairly & dispassionately
    • Provides recommendations to governor that clearly recognize that elected officials might have an obligation to decide differently than if they were acting purely in their private capacity.