The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology


Ethics and neuropsychiatric genetics: a review of major issues

Steven K. Hogea1 and Paul S. Appelbauma1 c1

a1 Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, Columbia University, New York, USA


Advances in neuropsychiatric genetics hold great hopes for improved prevention, diagnosis and treatment. However, the power of genetic testing to identify individuals at increased risk for disorders and to convey information about relatives creates a set of complex ethical issues. Public attitudes are inevitably affected by the shadow of eugenics, with its history of distorting scientific findings to serve socio-political ends. Nonetheless, the growing availability of genetic tests means that more patients will seek genetic information and physicians must manage the process of informed consent to allow meaningful decisions. Patients should be helped to understand the often-limited predictive power of current knowledge, potential psychological impact, risks of stigma and discrimination and possible implications for family members. Decisions for predictive testing of children raise additional concerns, including distortions of family dynamics and negative effects on children's self-image; testing is best deferred until adulthood unless preventive interventions exist. Pharmacogenomic testing, part of personalized medicine, may bring collateral susceptibility information for which patients should be prepared. The implications of genetic findings for families raise the question of whether physicians have duties to inform family members of implications for their health. Finally, participation in research in neuropsychiatric genetics evokes a broad range of ethical concerns, including the contentious issue of the extent to which results should be returned to individual subjects. As genetic science becomes more widely applied, the public will become more sophisticated and will be likely to demand a greater role in determining social policy on these issues.

(Received July 28 2011)

(Reviewed September 06 2011)

(Revised November 10 2011)

(Accepted December 17 2011)

(Online publication January 25 2012)

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c1 Address for correspondence: Dr P. S. Appelbaum, Department of Psychiatry, New York State Psychiatric Institute, 1051 Riverside Drive, Unit 122, New York, NY 10032, USA. Tel.: 212-543-4184 Fax: 212-543-6752 Email: