What Should the Law Say About Disclosure of Genetic Information to Relatives?
Clayton, Ellen Wright
When a person is diagnosed with a genetic disease or characteristic, his or her relatives are more likely than others in the general population to be similarly affected. This fact raises a host of questions. What should these relatives be told about the chance that they, too, inherited a particular mutation? If they should be told, who should tell them? What weight should be given to protecting patient confi dentiality? The increasing availability of interventions that can ameliorate or even eliminate the symptoms of genetic disorders makes these questions more pressing. In this paper, I will assume, as an ethi cal matter, that patients should generally tell their relatives about the chance that they, too, inherited a treatable genetic disorder. I will assume, also, that there may be instances in which clinicians are permitted by ethical norms to warn patients' relatives about the chance that they inherited a treatable disorder even over the patients' express objections. I will argue, however, that using the law of negligence to enforce such proposed obligations would represent an unwarranted expansion of legal duty and would entail great costs to the delivery of health care.