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Soc Sci Med. 1992 Dec;35(12):1469-76.

Led (astray) by genetic maps: the cartography of the human genome and health care.

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Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


Advocates of projects to map the human genome claim that the information produced will illuminate the causes of human disease, improve treatment and, in general, increase our health and well-being. While concerns about the costs of mapping and the possible discriminatory and eugenic applications of the information it will provide have received some attention, assumptions implicit in the biomedical discourse in which its 'benefits' are proposed and which are shaping definitions of illness and health, normality and abnormality, have not yet been adequately analyzed. This paper examines how the genetic stories about mapping and its potential products being told in the biomedical (and popular) literature continue a tradition of reductionism and determinism. This new 'cartography', by adopting the blueprint as a metaphor for genes, leads to restricted conceptions of health and illness, reinforces inequities in the distribution of health and, by privatizing and individualizing responsibility for health, creates and legitimizes a new arena for social control.

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