Ethical Issues in Psychiatric Genetics
As knowledge grows regarding the genetic bases of psychiatric disorders, a variety of ethical issues will need to be confronted. Current evidence suggests that the etiology of most psychiatric disorders rests on a combination of multiple genes and environmental factors. As tests for the genes involved become more easily available, pressures will arise to use them for prenatal testing, screening of children and adults, selection of potential adoptees, and pre-marital screening. Common problems that will need to be addressed include popular misunderstanding of the consequences of possessing an affected allele, impact of knowledge of one's genetic make-up on one's sense of self, and the discriminatory use of genetic information to deny persons access to insurance and employment. Although most states have some legislation aimed at preventing discrimination, the laws' coverage is spotty and federal rules are lacking. Physicians may find that newly available genetic information creates new duties for them, including warning third parties who may share the patient's genetic endowment. And genetics research itself has raised questions about when to disclose information to subjects and their family members about the genes that are being studied, and how to define the subjects of the research when information is collected about family members other than the proband. Knowledge of these dilemmas is a first step to resolving them, something that the medical profession will need to attend to in the near-term. Neglect will lead others to set the rules that will control medical practice, including the practice of psychiatry, in the new world of genetic medicine.
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