Ethical Perspectives

March 2012

The Personal is Political. Ethics and Personalized Medicine

Vilhjálmur Arnason


It is argued that the ethical questions and challenges raised by the project of personalizing medicine are not sufficiently addressed without considering the possible effects thereof on our system of healthcare. I argue that the framing of ethical issues in light of the main principles of bioethics, such as autonomy, welfare and even justice, tends to be too narrow and the larger social implications thus tend to be neglected. Among the possible unintended consequences of the project to increase personal responsibility for health is a reduced emphasis on it’s social determinants, for which we are jointly responsible.

This presents important challenges for bioethics, and calls in turn for closer attention to be paid to biopolitics and the social context of bioethical discourse. The conclusion is that the benefits or damage that might result from personalizing medicine will depend no less upon political and policy decisions than on pharmacogenomic developments.

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To  Ethical Perspectives 1/2012