Public defence: Ethics and the epigenetic challenge

Master Joona Räsänen at the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas will defend his dissertation Ethics and the epigenetic challenge - a bioethical study across the human lifespan for the degree of philosophiae doctor (PhD).

Doctoral candidate Joona Räsänen, wall with text "Det humanistiske fakultet"

In his dissertation, Joona Räsänen examines what he calls the epigenetic challenge: how we should understand the moral implications that epigenetics raise throughout the human lifespan. Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in cellular and physiological traits that are not caused by changes in the DNA itself.

Developments in epigenetics indicate that the lifestyle choices we make in the present affect the health and well-being of our future offspring. Räsänen makes an argument that we are partly morally responsible for the health and wellbeing of our not yet existing children. When considering counter-arguments against this claim, Räsänen examines the non-identity problem and evaluates the pro-life and pro-choice positions on fetal personhood. Räsänen also presents an ethical puzzle related to the practice of multifetal pregnancy reduction (aborting one of the twin fetuses).

In a series of papers, Räsänen challenges the idea that our age is determined by the number of years we have been alive. He proposes three understandings of age; chronological, biological, and experiential, and shows what problems these views have. Combining his ideas of age and ageing with the development in epigenetics, Räsänen suggests that since it could be possible to calculate a person’s biological age using so-called epigenetic clocks, perhaps some people should be allowed to change their legal age to avoid unjust age-based discrimination.

Räsänen is associated with the convergence environment Epigenetics and bioethics of human embryonic development funded by UiO:Life Science.


The defence will stream live on October 29, 10:15 am.


Request a digital copy of the dissertation.

Trial lecture

Given topic: "Methodology and Uncertainty in Applied Ethics"

Published 26 October 2021

Evaluation committee

Professor Emerita Ruth Chadwick, Cardiff University (first opponent)

Professor Christian Munthe, University of Gothenburg (second opponent)

Senior Lecturer Gry Oftedal, University of Oslo (committee administrator)

Chair of the defence

Head of Department Tor Egil Førland


Associate Professor Anna Smajdor, University of Oslo

Published Oct. 12, 2021 9:01 AM - Last modified Oct. 26, 2021 8:51 AM