The Ethical Implications of Genetic Screening and Testing: Arguments For and Against

The Ethical Implications of Genetic Screening and Testing: Arguments For and Against

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Given advancements in technology and medicine, genetic screening and testing is becoming more commonplace in our society. The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) defines genetic screening as “a search in a population for persons possessing certain genotypes that (1) are already associated with disease or predispose to disease, (2) may lead to disease in their descendants, or (3) produce other variations not known to be associated with disease” (NHGRI, 2005). The term genetic testing is similar, but differs in that it only targets those individuals believed to be at high risk for a genetic disease. For example, testing an asymptomatic person in a family with relatives affected with the condition would constitute genetic testing (NHGRI, 2005). For the purpose of this paper, the two terms will be used interchangeably. Given the growing number of genetic tests available for identifying genetic diseases, it is important to examine the ethical implications of genetic screening as well as the arguments for and against this practice.
While many argue that genetic discovery is a beneficial practice, there are still a significant number of individuals who are against genetic testing. Grosse et al. (2009) argues that decision-making regarding genetic screening should explicitly take into account the principles of ethics and opportunity costs. The authors discuss opportunity costs in terms of what would happen if funding for other health services are displaced due to expensive genetic screening. They argue that screening programs may bring about diagnostic tests and treatments that aren’t necessarily benign but are very costly. Still, policy-makers and clinicians often neglect to consider cost-effectiveness in health care priorit...


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... & Khoury, M.J. (2009). Population screening for genetic disorders in the 21st century: Evidence, economics, and ethics. Public Health Genomics, 1-10.

Heshka, J.T., Palleschi, C., Howley, H., Wilson, B., & Wells, P. (2008). A systematic review of perceived risks, psychological and behavioral impacts of genetic testing. Genetics In Medicine, 10, 19-32.

National Human Genome Research Institute. (2005). Genetic Testing Report-Chapter 1. Retrieved April 18, 2014, from http://www.genome.gov/10002405

Ross, L.F., Saal, H.M., David, K.L., & Anderson, R.R. (2013). Technical report: ethical and policy issues in genetic testing and screening of children. Genetics in Medicine, 15, 234-245.

Savulescu, J. (2007). Genetic interventions and the ethics of the enhancement of human beings. In B. Steinbock (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Bioethics (pp. 417-427). Oxford University Press.

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