‘Whatever genes one has it is preferable that you are prevented from going around stabbing people’: Genes, environment and responsibility for behaviour.
Mairi Levitt - Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster Universitywww.lancs.ac.uk/fass/faculty/profiles/Mairi-Levitt
ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum
ESRC Genomics Policy and Research ForumThe University of EdinburghCollege of Humanities and Social Science St John's Land Holyrood Road Edinburgh EH8 8AQ
Tel: 0131 651 4747
Research into genes associated with violent and antisocial behaviour has raised concerns that an individual’s responsibility for criminal acts might be called into question on the basis of his (sic) genes or because of a combination of genes with specific environmental factors. Such concern is valid since lawyers have already used, or attempted to use, genetic defences in criminal courts in order to help their clients. This paper focuses on one example of a ‘genetic’ defence, a test result for the genotype conferring low levels of monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) activity. Evidence of MAOA activity has been presented in criminal courts in USA and Europe.
As part of a pilot study on ‘Perceptions of nature and nurture’ 80 respondents were given short descriptions of real life court cases where the defence had drawn either on their client's environmental experiences or on genetic factors. While the student respondents consistently argued that responsibility for the crime was not affected in either case, the older respondents agreed the genetic case was invalid but were much less certain where there were environmental factors and young offenders. The arguments presented by the respondents are discussed in the light of philosophical and legal debates on responsibility.