Article

Experiencing the genetic body: parents' encounters with pediatric clinical genetics.

Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3115, USA.
Medical Anthropology (Impact Factor: 1.88). 10/2007; 26(4):355-91. DOI: 10.1080/01459740701619848
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Because of advancements in genetic research and technologies, the clinical practice of genetics is becoming a prevalent component of biomedicine. As the genetic basis for more and more diseases are found, it is possible that ways of experiencing health, illness, identity, kin relations, and the body are becoming geneticized, or understood within a genetic model of disease. Yet, other models and relations that go beyond genetic explanations also shape interpretations of health and disease. This article explores how one group of individuals for whom genetic disorder is highly relevant formulates their views of the body in light of genetic knowledge. Using data from an ethnographic study of 106 parents or potential parents of children with known or suspected genetic disorders who were referred to a pediatric genetic counseling and evaluation clinic in the southeastern United States, we find that these parents do, to some degree, perceive of their children's disorders in terms of a genetic body that encompasses two principal qualities: a sense of predetermined health and illness and an awareness of a profound historicity that reaches into the past and extends into the present and future. They experience this genetic body as both fixed and historical, but they also express ideas of a genetic body made less deterministic by their own efforts and future possibilities. This account of parents' experiences with genetics and clinical practice contributes to a growing body of work on the ways in which genetic information and technologies are transforming popular and medical notions of the body, and with it, health, illness, kinship relations, and personal and social identities.

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