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Exceptional know how? Possible pitfalls of routinising genetic services
  1. Dagmar Schmitz
  1. Correspondence to Dr Dagmar Schmitz, Ethics Institute, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 8, Utrecht 3584 CS, The Netherlands; daschmitz{at}


Genetic testing practices are increasingly advancing clinical medicine. This process of ‘routinisation of genetics’ has been conceived as a medical and ethical problem mainly because of the assumption that non-geneticists might lack the necessary skills to provide these services. In particular, the relevant theoretical knowledge in clinical genetics is viewed as insufficient in general practitioners and physicians from other specialities. Empirical findings seem to indicate significant variations not only in theoretical but also in practical knowledge between geneticists and non-geneticists. Several fields of practical knowledge—regarding for example the focus of clinical action, the relevance of therapeutic action or the normative framework—can be identified that are or could be areas of conflict when the routinisation of genetic services proceeds. From an ethical point of view, these variations in know how and background are especially relevant whenever the respective genetic service is concerned with medical information of exceptional normative quality, such as, for example, in prenatal genetic screening and diagnosis of untreatable conditions. Here, the clinically acquired practical knowledge of the non-geneticist could be particularly misleading insofar as there is no relation to therapy and—in a narrow sense—no clinical utility to be assessed. Non-geneticists need a chance to acquire the relevant theoretical and practical knowledge in order to understand and fulfil their own duties in the respective situations in a way that secures the important rights at stake of their patients and clients.

  • Education informed consent
  • genetic counselling/prenatal diagnosis
  • genetic testing/screening
  • informed consent
  • philosophy of medicine

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  • Funding This study was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Kennedyallee 50, 53175 Bonn, Germany.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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