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Should we genetically test everyone for haemochromatosis?
  1. K Allen,
  2. R Williamson
  1. Murdoch Institute, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia.


    The increasing availability of DNA-based diagnostic tests has raised issues about whether these should be applied to the population at large in order to identify, treat or prevent a range of diseases. DNA tests raise concerns in the community for several reasons. There is the possibility of stigmatisation and discrimination between those who test positive and those who don't. High-risk individuals may be identified for whom no proven effective intervention is possible, or conversely may test "positive" for a disease that does not eventuate. Controversy concerning prenatal diagnosis and termination of affected pregnancies may arise. Haemochromatosis, however, is a disease that is not only treatable but also preventable if those at high risk are identified presymptomatically. This paper will identify and discuss key issues regarding DNA-based population screening for haemochromatosis, and argue that population-based genetic screening for haemochromatosis should be supported when a number of contentious issues are addressed. In the context of a health system with limited resources haemochromatosis is the paradigm of a disorder where there is an ethical and clinical imperative to encourage presymptomatic DNA testing for all in ethnically relevant communities.

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