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Genetic testing without consent: the implications of the new Human Tissue Act 2004
  1. A Lucassen1,
  2. J Kaye2
  1. 1Wessex Clinical Genetics Service, Princess Anne Hospital, Southampton, UK
  2. 2Oxford Genetics Knowledge Park, Ethox Centre, DPHPC, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 A Lucassen
 Wessex Clinical Genetics Service, Princess Anne Hospital, Southampton SO16 5YA, UK;A.M.Lucassen{at}

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Despite its focus on consent the new Human Tissue Act 2004 allows for testing without consent where a relative could benefit

In recognition of the fact that genetic test results in people can have implications for close relatives, the new Human Tissue Act 2004 allows for a direction to access a person’s tissue so that testing can be carried out for the benefit of a relative, without the consent of that person. Clinical practice governed by common law and statute, before this act, acknowledged that the disclosure, without consent, of the results of a genetic test, is ethically permissible in extreme situations for the benefit of a relative. New testing for the benefit of a relative without donor consent challenges the principle that informed or adequate consent should be obtained before a genetic test with considerable predictive powers is carried out. The debate surrounding the analogous situation of HIV testing concluded that in very rare cases, disclosure of an HIV result without consent may be justified, but testing without consent is a professional misconduct. This part of the legislation is controversial and deserves further debate. The Human Tissue Authority should take measures to limit the potential harm that can be caused by this provision.


After much debate, the new Human Tissue Act 2004 was passed by parliament in November 2004. Implementation of this act may be staggered, but it will be fully operational in May 2006. This act has several provisions that have implications in clinical practice for the use of stored tissue or samples containing cells. These provisions allow the Human Tissue Authority to permit access to human tissue for the purpose of obtaining scientific or medical information about a person (donor) for the benefit of another family member, without the consent of the donor (schedule 4, paragraph 9). …

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  • Competing interests: None declared.

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