Ethical dilemmas in medical testing: Should patients be told about unrelated discoveries?

Image via Vancouver Sun.
Image via Vancouver Sun.

As modern medicine continues to improve, testing for one condition increasingly produces indicators for something completely unrelated. Dubbed “incidentaloma,” this situation can give patients enough notice to treat the condition, or produce stressful and disturbing false alarms. It also raises an important ethical question: how much should information should patients be given if their medical tests turn up something unrelated?

Given the increased medical information that comes from the rising popularity of genetic testing and genome mapping, this area contains a number of ethical issues that need to be addressed. A presidential advisory council said last week that it’s time to be more up-front about that risk with patients before their next X-ray or gene test turns up a disturbing surprise.

“Incidental findings can be life-saving, but they also can lead to uncertainty and distress,” cautioned Amy Gutmann of the University of Pennsylvania, who chairs the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. It’s an issue that “will likely touch all of us who seek medical care, participate in research, or send a cheek swab to a company for a peek at our own genetic makeup,” she said.

Read the full, original story: Ethics dilemma: How much should patients be told if medical tests turn up something unrelated?

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