Ethical Perspectives

March 2012

Germ-line Enhancements and Rough Equality

Michele Loi


Enhancements of the human germ-line introduce further inequalities in the competition for scarce goods, such as income and desirable social positions. Social inequalities, in turn, amplify the range of genetic inequalities that access to germ-line enhancements may produce. From an egalitarian point of view, inequalities can be arranged to the benefit of the worst-off group (for instance, through general taxation), but the possibility of an indefinite growth of social and genetic inequality raises legitimate concerns. It is argued that inequalities produced by markets of germ-line enhancements are just if it they are embedded in a framework of social institutions that satisfies two conditions: (i) Rawls’ Difference Principle, which states that inequalities of income and wealth should benefit the worst-off group; (ii) the lexically prior 'principle of rough equality', which states that citizens’ initial life-chances should be similar enough, so that extreme inequalities in income, wealth and power are not produced or accumulated through institutions justified by the Difference Principle. The principle of rough equality replaces the Rawlsian principles of the Fair Value of the Political Liberties and Fair Equality of Opportunity in a post-genomic society and expresses a concern with background political equality, which is argued to be a condition of the freedom and equality of citizens that should not be traded off with material benefits. Extreme inequalities are defined in terms of political equality.

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To  Ethical Perspectives 1/2012