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Who owns your genes?

In ethics, medicine, philosophy, society on May 21, 2012 at 05:30

 

Who owns your genes? – Justin Oakley & Alan Saunders – The Philosopher’s Zone, Radio National

Alan Saunders: Now, when it comes to confidentiality, we have to ask, don’t we, whether genetic counsellors can breach patient confidentiality to disclose the results of genetic tests, say to, in the case of genetic disorder, to relatives who are likely to be affected by the same genetic disorder.

Justin Oakley: Well, that’s right, and this is interesting because I guess we often assume that genetic information is our own personal information, that we kind of own it and that we as individuals should be able to have control over who gets access to that information, but of course in a lot of these conditions, say in the case of an inherited predisposition for bowel cancer, it can also be an indication that perhaps a relative, like a parent, might also have a gene for that condition, and so in the kinds of cases where it’s particularly difficult for genetic counsellors to know what to do, they’re the cases where perhaps an adult, perhaps a young adult in their twenties, has obtained a test for perhaps bowel cancer and the test results have come back and indicated that they do have the gene that predisposes them for that, but that that adult’s relationship with, say, their father has broken down and so perhaps the patient is not keen for the information to be passed on. It’s in that kind of situation where the genetic counsellor faces an ethical dilemma about whether or not to pass on the information to the father perhaps early enough so that the father can obtain some kind of treatment for it.

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