Genetic Testing: Implications for the Future of Medicine
The technologies of modern day science are slowly changing the face of
medicine. Genetic testing, screening and profiling of newborns will highlight new ethical
and social issues and bring about significant changes in the practice of medicine. There
are notable benefits and risks associated with any kind of genetic testing. It must be
determined; however, whether or not the benefits of such testing outweigh the risks. This
will be a pressing issue in medicine for years to come as technology progresses.
Genetic testing, screening and profiling are three different modern technologies
used as preemptive measures for finding and treating disease (5). As opposed to
screening whose aim is to identify a group of people who are at risk for a certain disease,
genetic testing is done on an individual to identify a certain gene variant (5). Testing is
done on the basis of family history or symptoms that have already presented themselves
(5). Screening is done in order to identify risks to a certain group of people in order to
come up with preventative measures to reduce the risk of contracting a disease (5).
Newborn screening for serious genetic defects is becoming more and more commonplace
throughout hospitals in the country (4). Florida provides screening for newborns for five
metabolic disorders free of charge (4). It is likely that this type of screening could grow
into entire genetic profiling of all newborns (5).
In contrast, genetic profiling is the analyzing of a person’s entire genome in order
to find any variants in their genetic code (5). More ethical issues are raised with general
use of genetic profiling that with testing or screening. If genetic profiling is used
extensively throughout the population many ethical and moral issues regarding consent
would be raised (5).
Genetic testing, screening and profiling would raise many questions about the
moral and ethical implications of genetic testing. Genetic testing and screening are not as
controversial as genetic profiling (5). They can be used more widely at the current time
as they are more financially feasible (5). In addition to the problems associated with the high cost of general use of genetic profiling there are also many practical issues with this
technique of predicting disease (5). The relationship between genetic variation and
polygenetic disorders is not well enough understood in order to be useful in general use
of genetic profiling (5). Genetic variants can also be affected by outside factors which
would make a genetic profile less clear-cut (5). In cases where there is more than one
variant that can cause a disease, genetic profiling would be less helpful than other tests
used to identify many variants (5). Finally, there is the issue of consent from the parent
for the testing of a child.
It is the opinion of some that a child should only be tested if it gives some
immediate advantage to the child in preventing or controlling a disease (5). Although it
could reveal possible problems for the child, it is debatable whether or not the parent has
the right to make the decision to test the child or whether it should be done when the
child is old enough to give their own informed consent(5). Some may not want to live
knowing that they have an incurable disease (5). Even if the disease is preventable, the
knowledge that they have it will not necessarily motivate them to change their lifestyle in
order to prevent it (5). Also, other relevant issues are brought up concerning parents and
their choice whether or not to keep a child after finding out the child’s risk for disease
(1). Already embryos are being specifically selected based on genetic screening results
(1). This brings up the moral issues associated with engineering a child for specific
features (1). It could be deemed normal to screen embryos for severe genetic defects, but
it is debatable whether this will be taken too far in the future such that embryos are being
selected for even the most trivial advantages (1).
There are many benefits associated with general use of genetic testing. Diseases
that may be contracted by a person could be detected early and treatment could be started
quickly (4). However, at this time, many treatable disorders are not being tested for (4).
Either way, the results of this testing could affect a child’s fate to be born or not,
depending on the choice of the parents (4). It is not the aim of genetic profiling to
engineer children in future generations (3). It is possible though, that the information
given to parents will affect their decision to keep their child if it has a variant for a
disease (3). It is possible though, to discove