Recent advances in the genetics of neurologic diseases coupled with improvements in sensitivity and specificity are making genetic testing an increasingly important part of diagnosis and management for neurologists. However, the complex nature of genetic testing, the nuances of multiple result types, and the short- and long-term consequences of genetic diagnoses raise important ethical issues for the clinician. Neurologists must balance the ethical principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence, on the one hand, with patient autonomy on the other hand, when ordering such tests by facilitating shared decision making, carrying out their fiduciary responsibilities to patients, and ensuring that patients have adequate counseling to make informed decisions. This review summarizes ethical issues related to genetic testing for neurologic diseases, with a focus on clinical practice. Informed consent for genetic testing of patients and asymptomatic at-risk family members is discussed. The roles and responsibilities of physicians as genetic counselors are reviewed, including the framing of incidental findings and variants of unknown significance that impact individuals' decisions about whether to pursue genetic testing and what results they wish to know. Disclosure and its consequences for the patient are placed within an ethical framework to permit a better understanding of why genetic testing is different from most other diagnostic testing ordered by physicians. The review ends with clinical vignettes that attempt to place ethical principles into familiar clinical settings involving physicians, patients and their families.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Clinical Neurology