Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications
Autonomous decision making respects individual preferences by incorporating informed consent and education. Individuals have the right to be informed about the risks and benefits of genetic testing and to freely choose or decline testing for themselves. Additionally, it is beneficial to consider the sociocultural context and family dynamics to ensure medical decision making takes places without coercion or interference.
Justice refers to the equitable distribution of the benefits and risks of health care. A goal in oncology is ensuring access to cancer genetic services. The availability of predictive genetic testing should not be dependent on ethnic background, geographical location, or ability to pay. Genetic discrimination should not be a result of predictive testing. Equitable distribution balances individual rights with responsibilities of community membership.
Privacy and Confidentiality: Disclosure of Patient's Genetic Information
A strong provider-patient relationship is founded on respect for the patient's privacy and confidentiality; therefore, protecting the patient's personal information from third parties is key to building trust.[2,3] Predictive testing for cancer susceptibility presents a challenge because of the hereditary nature of the diseases being tested and the implications of genetic risk for family members. Physicians are faced with a duty to warn or to act to prevent foreseeable harm. One practical suggestion for facilitating family-based communication is providing patients with education and information materials to facilitate disease susceptibility discussions with family members. The next section discusses the legal, legislative, and ethical basis for balancing patient confidentiality with duty to warn.
Disclosure in research
Privacy and confidentiality also applies to research, such as population screening for genetic diseases. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services authorizes the use of Certificates of Confidentiality to researchers. This certificate, issued by the National Institutes of Health, protects the researcher from having to reveal the identity of any research subject "in any Federal, State, or local civil, criminal, administrative, legislative, or other proceedings." The protections offered by the certificate of confidentiality are limited to personally identifiable information collected beginning on the date of issuance and ending on the expiration date, which matches the date of study completion. The NIH Office of Extramural Research policy and guidance on Certificates of Confidentiality notes that any personally identifiable information collected during that time interval is protected in perpetuity. In regard to family-based recruitment strategies, the Cancer Genetics Network Bioethics Committee assembled a group of experts to develop recommendations for researchers to use in approaching family members. Due to the wide spectrum of research strategies, there are different levels of concern. Essential to family-based recruitment strategies is informing potential research participants how their personal information was obtained by the researcher, why the researcher is approaching them, what the researcher knows about them, and for what purpose the information will be used, whether or not they decide to participate.