As technology continues to advance, we are constantly presented with new and innovative methods of better understanding humankind. We now have the ability to map out our DNA down to the last A, T, C, or G, trace our ancestry based on genetic similarities and with the help of genetic testing and counseling, we can even predict our own futures with reasonable accuracy. Genetic testing and counseling make it possible to better estimate any particular health risks and indicate any preventative measures that might help lessen (or eliminate) illness. However, with this movement forward in technology, we are also faced with ethical and moral dilemmas; how to effectively use information resulting from genetic testing in a fair, just, and principled manner.
Working in conjunction with biologists an doctors, genetic counselors can provide essential information to help predict potential illness in families with a history of hereditary disease. Using human tissue samples, biologists can extract and sequence DNA to determine any abnormalities, or mutations. Genetic counselors and biologists come together when analyzing this information, and as a team, they can predict with stunning accuracy susceptibility to genetic conditions, such as certain types of cancer, mental illnesses, cystic fibrosis, Down Syndrome, and other inherited diseases. Anyone with a history of disease in their family can consider working with a genetic counselor, to discuss potential health risks. Depending on the patients situation, the genetic counsellor may suggest more frequent check-ups with their doctor, additional testing, drug therapy, or possible preemptive surgery.
The ethical issues of counseling are tied closely to the ethics of the very science that provides us with information in the first place. Cost, potential insurance repercussions, and the decision of what to do with the information presented can each be potential roadblocks. Counseling and testing can cost upwards of $3500.00 for those without insurance coverage. Because of the possibility of discrimination or loss of coverage some have chosen to pay the full amount of testing themselves, rather than disclose their information to insurance companies. For many who are aware of their familial histories, or have cared for family members as they suffered, the decision to take advantage of genetic information is immensely difficult.
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