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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Can rightly be said to be suffering from a genetic malady....

We can also unproblematically classify a large portion of conditions that have a genetic base as not being maladies. If we consider eye colour as an example, the difference between a genetic malady and a characteristic that simply has a genetic basis can clearly be seen. Eye colour does not have a distinct sustaining cause, since it is the result of the genetic makeup of the person in question. However unlike Tay-Sachs or sickle cell anaemia there is neither suffering nor an increased risk of suffering, harm or evil as a result of the colour of a person’s eyes. So, even though eye colouration is something that is determined by genetic makeup, the fact that it does not cause suffering or increased risk of suffering a harm or evil, means that it cannot be defined as a genetic malady.

While the difference between Tay-Sachs and sickle cell anaemia and eye colour in relation to their status as maladies can clearly be seen, the situation is not as clear with other conditions that have a genetic basis. Take, for example, a person who develops Huntington disease. There is no doubt they are suffering from a malady and, as it is caused by the person’s genetic structure it can be classified as a genetic malady. What of the person who through screening in their late teens or early twenties discovers they have the gene that causes Huntington disease? It would appear that we can correctly say that this person is suffering from a genetic malady. This is because a person with the Huntington’s gene has a far greater risk of developing the disease and therefore suffering the harms and evils associated with it than does the general population. There is also no distinct sustaining cause of the suffering it results from his or her genetic makeup. Therefore it is the case that someone who has the gene for Huntington disease but has not yet developed the disease can rightly be said to be suffering from a genetic malady.

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