Predictive genetic testing of children for adult-onset diseases and psychological harm
Journal of Medical Ethics 2008 April; 34(4): 275-278
One of the central arguments given to resist testing currently healthy, asymptomatic children for adult-onset diseases is that they may be psychologically harmed by the knowledge gained from such tests. In this discussion I examine two of the most serious arguments: children who are tested may face limited futures, and that testing may result in damage to the child's self esteem (where the test result returns a positive diagnosis). I claim that these arguments do not stand up to critical evaluation. In conclusion, whilst I do not suggest that all at-risk children should be tested for adult-onset diseases we ought to listen carefully to some parental requests for such testing because the putative psychological harms may not be as significant or likely as initially thought. This is because parents generally have the best interests of their children at heart and if they are properly supported and educated about predictive genetic testing and the possible consequences, then the risk of psychological harms occurring may be ameliorated.
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