The Pros and Cons of Genetic Testing

Genetic testing has become increasingly popular in recent years, as it can provide valuable information about a person's health and family history. However, there are some potential risks associated with genetic testing that should be taken into consideration. Many of the risks associated with genetic testing have to do with the emotional, social, or financial consequences of test results. People may feel angry, depressed, anxious, or guilty about their results.

In some cases, genetic testing creates tension in the family because the results can reveal information about other family members besides the person being tested. The possibility of genetic discrimination in employment or insurance is also a cause for concern. In addition, if a woman has two or more miscarriages or a pregnancy after age 34, genetic testing will be useful for early diagnosis, which can help identify appropriate treatment options. The physical risks associated with most genetic tests are very small, since some only require blood or tissue samples.

However, some tests can be very destructive. For example, methods for prenatal testing involve the acquisition of amniotic fluid around the fetus. Such a practice can be really dangerous because the mother can suffer a spontaneous abortion. If genetic information could benefit family members (for example, allowing them to improve their own prognosis), doctors should guide their patients toward voluntary disclosure while assiduously protecting their right to confidentiality. While it is true that some tests can be very specific to the genetic disorder, these tests often cannot indicate the severity of the manifestation of the disease. The Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health allocated parts of their budgets to examining ethical, legal, and social issues related to the availability of genetic information.

If a patient is being evaluated due to a diagnosis of cancer in a biological family member and it is discovered that she has a genetic susceptibility to cancer, she must be offered counseling and follow-up, with appropriate referral, to ensure that care meets current standards. For example, if there is a low chance of transmitting a certain unwanted genetic condition, couples can be assured that they can have children without the disorder. The timely medical benefit for the child should be the main justification for genetic testing in children and adolescents. Genetic testing is destined to play an increasing role in the practice of obstetrics and gynecology. While genetic testing is not mandatory, like any medical intervention, this technique aims to do more good than harm. In recognition of concerns related to genetic testing, in 1995, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published guidelines stating that people who thought they had been discriminated against by an employer because of predictive genetic testing had the right to sue that employer. Screening tests will also yield incidental findings, identifying genetic markers that were not part of the program's objective.

Genetic test results can also be used as support for including the parents' name on a child's birth certificate. Physicians must be able to identify patients in their offices who are candidates for genetic testing and must maintain their competence in the face of increasing genetic knowledge. And even more are likely to happen as genetic analysis technologies continue to advance, allowing health risks that were previously undetectable to be discovered. Therefore, to avoid these complications, it is vital to receive counseling before and after genetic testing. This familial quality of genetic information poses ethical dilemmas for physicians, particularly in relation to their duty of confidentiality.