Document Type

Contribution to Book

Publication Date

Spring 2016

Publication Title

Study of Time: Time and Trace

Volume

15

First Page

235

Last Page

255

Keywords

heredity, epigenetics, law, social justice, environmental justice, diet, health costs, ethics, reproductive politics

Abstract

Recent research in the emerging field of epigenetics has implications with the potential to re-ignite acrimony in the discourse of reproductive rights, medical ethics, and the role of the state in our homes and in our lives. For scientists, epigenetics has profoundly realigned our understanding of heredity: epigenetics provides a mechanism through which the environmental challenges met in one generation can be inscribed and transmitted to future offspring. Although both genetic parents have the potential to transmit heritable epigenetic changes to their offspring, mothers have a particularly potent effect because nutrition in the uterine environment can exert a supplemental effect upon the epigenetic imprint of her offspring, and potentially, upon subsequent generations. Moreover, parental care post partum may have generational consequences that are more than just social. Unless discussants have a nuanced understanding of basic epigenetics, women could suffer a disproportionate burden of the obligation to promote fetal, neonatal, and trans-generational health. Drawing upon past patterns of discourse, ethics, and legislation in reproductive rights, I will briefly list some of the challenges and temptations that we will be facing at the individual, familial, social, and legislative levels.