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date: 05 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores one of the most important new frontiers in medicine—namely, the new genetics—addressing the issues of identity and free will that genetics raises in new ways. It then uses the case of a woman with “the breast cancer gene” as an example of how genetic testing poses excruciating, new questions to the women affected and their families. Aside from the practical questions of what to do when faced with such a diagnosis, does this and the other Ashkenazi Jewish genetic diseases serve as a basis for the “discrimination, stigmatization, and marginalization” of Jews generally? Should Jews and others think of Jews as a “sick” people? For Jews, of course, such discussion of eugenics has a painful past in both the United States and in Nazi Germany. This is complicated yet further by the fact that in some cases, as with the breast cancer gene, the presence of the gene does not guarantee that the woman will have cancer but only adds to the probability of that happening. What, then, if anything, should be done with such a diagnosis? Furthermore, the availability of pre-natal testing for genetic diseases could easily create expectations in the future that families with a history of a particular genetic disease be tested for it, and if they bear a child with the disease, they may be seen as morally delinquent to both the child and society. The analysis brings Jewish concepts and values to bear on these questions.

Keywords: genetics, genetic testing, Jewish bioethics, breast cancer gene

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