Ethical implications of predictive DNA testing for hereditary breast cancer


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Abstract

Predictive medicine offers the possibility of detecting many common diseases that have a genetic basis, such as cancer; however, a genetic alteration might only indicate susceptibility to, not certainty of, disease. Whereas means for identifying a greater susceptibility to disease have been developed, effective interventions have progressed much more slowly. Awareness of one's susceptibility to disease without an actual possibility of intervention can lead to an unacceptable use of such information, or have a dramatic psychological impact on the person involved. Are the risks connected with the knowledge of susceptibility to genetic disease proportional to the benefits that such knowledge may provide? Does the knowledge of one's genetic condition constitute a service to the individual and society, or is this predominantly harmful for the person involved? The problem is vast, and involves medical, psychological, social, political and ethical dilemmas. These dilemmas, common to all predictive medicine, are most evident in predictive DNA testing for hereditary breast cancer. In our analysis, we will first examine the ethical values involved in genetic testing, highlighting the special ethical issues raised by predictive DNA testing for hereditary breast cancer. Next we will deal with genetic counseling, which, in our opinion, is the ‘ethos’ for ethically justifying predictive DNA testing.

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