The scientists have argued whether making genetic information available to patients does them good or harm. A recent report from the Hastings Center brings out evidence for the first time that knowing about one’s increased genetic risk for diseases such as obesity; cancer and Alzheimer’s can actually alter one’s functioning negatively.
Making genetic information
This is a significant piece of learning about the social and ethical implications of genetic testing information. While earlier researchers in this field have suggested it increases anxiety, puts social pressure on the patient; strains social relationships; and induces depression, others deny these associations. The ethical; legal and social implications of such testing are thus a matter of continuing debate, consuming much time and energy.
With many new and powerful gene testing tools being release to meet the growing demand for genomic information; this question is becoming increasingly relevant. From babies whose prenatal ultrasound show unexpected findings, to cancer patients who are candidates for gene-based therapy; routine genomic screening is well on the way to being perceived as an inevitable part of health care in the not-so-distant future.
Powerful genetic testing
In fact, many scientists want to think of genetic testing as just one of many medical tests, without the need for an informed consent beforehand. The question is therefore; how does genetic testing affect people mentally, emotionally and socially? The simple reply is, we don’t yet know enough to provide a readymade answer. The current report considers how much genetic testing has widened since its early days; and evidence-based outcomes of making this information available to patients. It also explores some factors that affect the impact of this type of knowledge.
The report comes from a 2018 conference at Columbia University, named “Looking for the Psychosocial Impacts of Genetic Information,” and looks at three aspects of genetic testing: its historical background, evidence for lack of harm to psychosocial health from genetic testing, and evidence that supports the need for more research into such harms.
The Psychosocial Impacts
The first section describes how humans deal with the knowledge of their gene makeup. One such mindset is described as genetic essentialism – believing that we are the result of deep; hidden, internal genetic interactions, rather than active agents in our own destinies. This promotes discrimination, and reduces the understanding of the even greater importance of other factors in human behavior.
Strategic essentialism is another way humans deal with such information, twisting genetic data to suit one’s preformed agenda. In the second section, author Scott Roberts discusses findings from a study on ApoE gene testing, a risk marker for Alzheimer’s disease. He points out that people who knew they had tested positive for the gene did not show elevated signs of depression or anxiety, and any harm was transient and mild. However, he says, the testing involved only one gene whose effects were well known, and this group was carefully prepared by pretest counseling and education.