February 11, 2011
The Ethics of Genetic Engineering by Professor Roberta M. Berry, Faculty Fellow with the Center for Law, Health & Society, has been receiving highly favorable reviews and scholarly attention.
The book examines what Berry calls "fractious problems" - problems that are novel, complex, ethically fraught, unavoidably public, and unavoidably divisive. Berry particularly explores one such fractious problem: the potential that in the future prospective parents could create "designer babies" with superior mental or physical characteristics by engineering their babies’ genomes.
"A lawyer and philosopher by training, Berry skillfully negotiates complicated and theoretically dense issues by bringing a broad range of political philosophers and ethicists into meaningful dialogue," wrote Erica K. Rangel in the November 2010 issue of the American Journal of Bioethics.
Berry uses fictional conversations between three different couples wrestling with their reproductive options and their respective genetic counselors, who each take different philosophical approaches to genetic engineering. These conversations provide a highly engaging illumination of the complex ethical dilemmas she raises.
"[T]he the dialogical method is excellent at bringing the philosophy to life and offers readers a contextualized application of the theories," wrote Rangel. "Philosophers will be reminded of the Platonic dialogues, in which the complexity of certain ethical quandaries is distilled through the interchange of different voices. Berry’s dialogues certainly stand out among other texts on the ethics of genetics, and are the book’s primary asset."
Writing in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (May 2009), Sheldon Krimsky of Tufts University praised Berry for "her richer understanding of ethical theory than most writing in the field of ’genome ethics’." He also cited her dialogues as a distinguishing and creative feature of the book. "From a teaching standpoint, Berry’s dialogues will be useful in reaching students who may have difficulty in applying ethical theory to contemporary problems," he said. Krimsky’s review is available on-line at http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=16029.
David B. Resnick gave overall commendations in Metascience (Sept. 2009): "Her analysis is thoughtful and incisive . . . . The book is interesting, insightful, and well written."
While human genetic engineering is still only a future possibility, Berry believes society should confront its ethical and social implications now, before it leaves the realms of science fiction and becomes reality. "Berry’s book, which assumes that germline gene enhancement of humans will eventually take place, prepares readers for new personal and societal choices that will be available to prospective parents," said Krimsky.
Similarly, Rangel observed: "As the promise of this powerful technology becomes a reality, the questions Berry asks will become ever more important for us to contemplate. Her book offers an excellent resource for those interested in getting a head start."
First published in hardcover in 2007 by Routledge, The Ethics of Genetic Engineering is now available in paperback (2010), and it can be ordered from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.