Over time, the public has started to perceive genes as the causal determinants of our actions, our lives, and our decisions. This view, called genetic determinism, lies at the root of many fears about the specter of genetic discrimination, which many believe is on the horizon for developing countries where genome maps are becoming increasingly cheap. Nevertheless, it is not clear whether genetic discrimination will grow to become the problem many are forecasting. From an ethical perspective, the problem of genetic discrimination may not lie solely in the act of discriminating against an individual based on his or her genome. rather, the problem may lie in people’s fears about a genetic bias, which may cause some not to seek a diagnosis.
Utilitarianism is the ethical theory that the moral content of an act (or rule) consists solely of the degree to which it maximizes happiness (or utility) in the greatest number of people. In other words, the good toward which all of our actions ought to pursue, under the utilitarian theory, is happiness, pleasure, or preference-satisfaction. Accordingly, if by ending the life of one person we save the life of twenty persons, then that act is not only allowable but also preferred under the utilitarian theory. Utilitarianism does have intuitive appeal insofar as any living being will seek to maximize its pleasure and minimize its pain. This moral theory acknowledges this fact and places happiness as the good toward which we evaluate all actions as either moral or immoral.
Under a utilitarian framework, the argument against discrimination in any context follows from the assumption that society will be better off, or enriched, by the contributions of as many people as possible. Thus, if people were to be discriminated against in some fashion, their contributions to society (and ideas on how to make society better) would be lost without an audience.