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Surprising Science

Genetic Testing: Is Ignorance Bliss?

When it comes to diseases like Alzheimer’s, it is worth asking whether there is not something unethical about offering people genetic tests for conditions that are not yet treatable.

What’s the Big Idea?

When is ignorance bliss? When do you refuse to be tested for a disease against which there is no suitable treatment? With genetic testing kits more readily available than ever, many people may face a medical ethics crossroad should their doctor recommend a test seeking predispositions for genetic diseases. While some genetic conditions, like epilepsy, can be treated with some efficacy, others like Alzheimer’s and autism remain stubbornly outside the purview of modern treatments. 

What’s the Most Recent Development?

Genetic links to diseases are publicized widely, but a recent report from the U.K.’s Human Genetics Commission on the variety of genetic testing options available to couples contemplating having children went virtually unnoticed, says Mary Dejevsky. The author says that pre-conception genetic screening allows informed decisions to be made. On the other hand, if a 40 year-old man or woman’s genetic test determines he or she has a predisposition for Alzheimer’s, how much of a life would be consumed by fretting about each possible symptom of the disease’s onset?

A new test will be able to tell doctors and parents if a fetus contains any unfavorable genetic traits. However, researchers believe the test could lead to terminated pregnancies if parents believed a condition would interfere with a child living a normal life.  

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