If I Am Only My Genes, What Am I? Genetic Essentialism and a Jewish Response

With the advent of the Genetic Age comes a unique new set of problems and ethical decisions. There is a tendency to take the scientific developments presented by modern genetics at face value, as if the science itself were value-neutral and not influenced by cultural and religious images. One example of the fallout of the Genetic Age is the development of a "genetic self," the idea that our essential selfhood lies in our genes. It is important to understand the assumptions of the Genetic Age, the development of genetic selfhood, and the broader cultural trends and assumptions that underlie modern genetic thinking. It is equally important, however, to shape a reaction to the concept of a genetic self. Judaism has long carried on a unique discussion about the nature of selfhood in different times and places and about the relation of the corporeal self to the essential self. Insights from Judaism therefore may help to craft a reaction to the modern genetic self that incorporates the best of modern genetics as well as the integrity of a more transcendent selfhood.