Physicians and genetic malpractice
Medicine and Law: World Association for Medical Law 2002; 21(4): 661-680
Primary care physicians are unprepared for the increase in demands for prenatal genetic testing. Often, they do not possess the necessary knowledge, skills or attitudes to provide genetic counselling. Yet, since the demand for prenatal genetic services is growing faster than the number of genetic professionals, the responsibility of genetic counselling will fall to these physicians. Physicians who lack genetic literacy may find themselves the targets of lawsuits for wrongful birth and wrongful life. Wrongful birth and wrongful life claims (in the context of genetics) both assert that but for the physician's negligence, the handicapped child would not have been born. Such medical malpractice suits against physicians exist in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. This paper discusses the case law on wrongful birth/life cases in these four countries. The authors conclude that as the number and availability of prenatal genetic tests increases, so too will the number of genetic malpractice claims, unless the education of physicians and medical students in genetics is promoted, possibly with the Internet as the new educational paradigm.
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