Although feminist bioethicists have critiqued the new reproductive and genetic technologies in general, they have written relatively little on the specific topic of gene therapy. To be sure, there are exceptions to this rule. Mary B. Mahowald reflects in depth on genomic alterations and women in her book Genes, Women, Equality. In addition, Jackie Leach Scully and Anita Silvers have routinely challenged both the reigning boundaries between somatic cell gene transfer (SCGT) and germ-line gene transfer (GLGT) on the one hand, and the standard definitions for genetic “treatment” and genetic “enhancement” on the other. Some traditional bioethicists, such as Eric Parens, have also challenged these same boundaries. But when they have done so, they have neglected, overlooked, or chosen to ignore the ways in which raising the so-called “woman question” can help all bioethicists, feminist or non-feminist, provide better advice about which types of gene transfer should be encouraged and which discouraged.
In the following essay, I first offer a fairly traditional bioethical analysis of gene transfer, with an emphasis on GLGT and other forms of inheritable genetic modification (IGM). I then provide some feminist critiques of this mode of analysis, each of which raises the woman question with respect to gene transfer. Finally, I suggest that if traditional bioethics incorporates feminist understandings about gene transfer into its corpus, it has a better chance of serving the best interests of men and women equally.
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