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Starting Grant 2018 - Kristien Hens

Epigenetics, Experience and Responsibility: Implications for Neurodevelopmental Disorders (NEUROEPIGENETHICS)

In folk psychology and in bioethical discussions, the central dogma of genetics is often taken for granted: humans are seen as defined in a genetic blueprint. The conceptualization of psychiatric conditions as innate or acquired, biological or psychosocial, genetic or environmental, influences the ascription of both capacity responsibility (the capacity to adapt or adjust one’s own behaviour) and normative responsibility of individuals or the society towards those diagnosed. But findings in the field of epigenetics indicate that the social and physical environment influence how genes are expressed. Indeed, epigenetics may shed a new light on distinctions such as innate/acquired, genetic/environmental, biological/psychosocial: a far more complex view on neurodevelopmental disorders may emerge, with ethical implications. However, the implications of epigenetics for discussions on the scope and extent of normative responsibility have not been adequately addressed. 

NEUROEPIGENETHICS aims to investigate the ethical implications of epigenetics for neurodevelopmental disorders. We will use theoretical and empirical methods to investigate how certain concepts (innate/biological/genetic) affect the ways in which professionals and stakeholders (persons with a neurodevelopmental disorder and their families) conceive of responsibility. We will evaluate how the emerging field of epigenetics alters the ascription of capacity responsibility and normative responsibility. We will research how individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Tourette Syndrome (TS) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and their families experience the interaction between their condition and their biological and social environment. Finally, we will define moral responsibility in light of the emerging field of epigenetics in the area of neurodevelopmental disorders and child psychiatric practice.