The Ethics of Genetics Research

Authored by: Curtis R. Coughlin

Handbook of Research Methods in Health Psychology

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138595347
eBook ISBN: 9780429488320
Adobe ISBN:


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The field of human genetics is often associated with an ominous past. Over a century ago, Francis Galton coined the term eugenics referring to the systematic study of inherited traits. The initial eugenic studies were voluntary and emphasized genetic education (Galton, 1884). Surprisingly, these studies emphasized important tenets of ethical research performed today. Yet most people associate the idea of eugenics with the atrocities of Hitler’s death camps or the involuntary sterilization policies of the 20th century. In fact, the very horrific and villainous actions of World War II emphasized the need for voluntariness and informed consent that are central to all human subject research today (Shuster, 1997). Similarly, it may seem as though the popular media is dominated by stories consisting of DNA-based crime investigations or misuse of genome editing. These unfortunate missteps have guided ethical standards surrounding genetic research. By understanding potential ethical dilemmas, the health psychology researcher can feel more confident applying exciting genetic tools to research.

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