The ethical implications of genetic testing in the classroom.
ABSTRACT The development of classroom experiments where students examine their own DNA is frequently described as an innovative teaching practice. Often these experiences involve students analyzing their genes for various polymorphisms associated with disease states, like an increased risk for developing cancer. Such experiments can muddy the distinction between classroom investigation and medical testing. Although the goals and issues surrounding classroom genotyping do not directly align with those of clinical testing, instructors can use the guidelines and standards established by the medical genetics community when evaluating the ethics of human genotyping. We developed a laboratory investigation and discussion which allowed undergraduate science students to explore current DNA manipulation techniques to isolate their p53 gene, followed by a dialogue probing the ethical implications of examining their sample for various polymorphisms. Students never conducted genotyping on their samples because of the ethical concerns presented in this paper, so the discussion replaced the actual genetic testing in the class. A science faculty member led the laboratory portion, while a genetic counselor facilitated the discussion of the ethical concepts underlying genetic counseling: autonomy, beneficence, confidentiality, and justice. In their final papers, students demonstrated an understanding of the practice guidelines established by the genetics community and acknowledged the ethical considerations inherent in p53 genotyping. Given the burgeoning market for personalized medicine, teaching undergraduates about the psychosocial and ethical dimensions of human genetic testing is important and timely. Moreover, incorporating a genetic counselor in the classroom discussion provided a rich and dynamic discussion of human genetic testing.