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‘There is a lot of good in knowing, but there is also a lot of downs’: public views on ethical considerations in population genomic screening


Publics are key stakeholders in population genomic screening and their perspectives on ethical considerations are relevant to programme design and policy making. Using semi-structured interviews, we explored social views and attitudes towards possible future provision of personalised genomic risk information to populations to inform prevention and/or early detection of relevant conditions. Participants were members of the public (n=30) who had received information on their personal genomic risk of melanoma as part of a research project. The focus of the analysis presented here is participants’ views regarding ethical considerations relevant to population genomic screening more generally. Data were analysed thematically and four key themes related to ethical considerations were identified: (i) personal responsibility for health: ‘forewarned is forearmed’; (ii) perceptions of, and responses to, genetic fatalism; (iii) implications for parenting and reproduction; (iv) divided views on choosing to receive genomic risk information. Ethical considerations underlying these themes include the valorisation of information and choice, paternalism, non-directiveness and increasing responsibilisation of individuals in health and healthcare. These findings arguably indicate a thin public conceptualisation of population genomic testing, which draws heavily on how these themes tend to be described in existing social discourses. Findings suggest that further public engagement is required to increase complexity of debate, to consider (for example) the appropriate place of individual and social interests in population genomic testing. Further discernment of relevant ethical approaches, drawing on ethical frameworks from both public health and clinical settings, will also assist in determining the appropriate implementation of population genomic screening for complex conditions.

  • population policy
  • ethics
  • public health ethics
  • genetic screening/testing

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