Nature-versus-nurture considered harmful: Actionability as an alternative tool for understanding the exposome from an ethical perspective

Caspar W. Safarlou*, Annelien L. Bredenoord, Roel Vermeulen, Karin R. Jongsma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Abstract

Exposome research is put forward as a major tool for solving the nature-versus-nurture debate because the exposome is said to represent “the nature of nurture.” Against this influential idea, we argue that the adoption of the nature-versus-nurture debate into the exposome research program is a mistake that needs to be undone to allow for a proper bioethical assessment of exposome research. We first argue that this adoption is originally based on an equivocation between the traditional nature-versus-nurture debate and a debate about disease prediction/etiology. Second, due to this mistake, exposome research is pushed to adopt a limited conception of agential control that is harmful to one's thinking about the good that exposome research can do for human health and wellbeing. To fully excise the nature-versus-nurture debate from exposome research, we argue that exposome researchers and bioethicists need to think about the exposome afresh from the perspective of actionability. We define the concept of actionability and related concepts and show how these can be used to analyze the ethical aspects of the exposome. In particular, we focus on refuting the popular “gun analogy” in exposome research, returning results to study participants and risk-taking in the context of a well-lived life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356-366
Number of pages11
JournalBioethics
Volume38
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. Bioethics published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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