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Ethical rhetoric: genomics and the moral content of UNESCO’s “universal” declarations

Genomic research is an expanding and subversive field, leaking into various others, from environmental protection to food production to healthcare delivery, and in doing so, it is reshaping our relationship with them. The international community has issued various declaratory instruments aimed at the human genome and genomic research. These soft law instruments stress the special nature of genomics and our genetic heritage, and attempt to set limits on our activities with respect to same, as informed by the human rights paradigm.

This paper examines the primary thrust and, more importantly, the joint value position of the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights and the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, concluding that, though important legal instruments from the human rights paradigm, these instruments, or rather the values contained therein, must find a more influential hard law voice and a broader policy environment.