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Health for Whom? Bioethics and the Challenge of Justice for Genomic Medicine

Abstract: The guiding premise from which this special report begins is the conviction and hope that justice is at the normative heart of medicine and that it is the perpetual task of bioethics to bring concerns of justice to bear on medical practice. On such an account, justice is medicine’s lifeblood, that by which it contributes to life as opposed to diminishing it. It is in this larger, historical, intersectional, critical, and ethically minded context that we must approach pressing questions facing medicine, including the question of the import and role of genomic knowledge for human life. The second premise is that, at least in principle, the knowledge generated by genomics can be a gift or a weight, or both at the same time. That is to say that, on the one hand, genomic knowledge is a gift, creating novel insights into the genetic drivers of disease and into the geographical paths of our ancestors. And on the other hand, it is a weight, creating new obligations, new forms of social classification, and new forms of surveillance. Because it is in many ways the “common sense” of the day that genomic knowledge is a gift, this special report, which contains nine essays, concentrates on the ways in which such knowledge can be a weight, a weight that has the potential to thwart—and historically has thwarted—medicine from genuinely advancing justice.

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