Social Epigenetics and Equality of Opportunity

Public Health Ethics 6 (2):142-153 (2013)
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Abstract

Recent epidemiological reports of associations between socioeconomic status and epigenetic markers that predict vulnerability to diseases are bringing to light substantial biological effects of social inequalities. Here, we start the discussion of the moral consequences of these findings. We firstly highlight their explanatory importance in the context of the research program on the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) and the social determinants of health. In the second section, we review some theories of the moral status of health inequalities. Rather than a complete outline of the debate, we single out those theories that rest on the principle of equality of opportunity and analyze the consequences of DOHaD and epigenetics for these particular conceptions of justice. We argue that DOHaD and epigenetics reshape the conceptual distinction between natural and acquired traits on which these theories rely and might provide important policy tools to tackle unjust distributions of health

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