• genetics;
  • public health;
  • testing;
  • screening;
  • ethics;
  • exceptionalism


Genetic testing (predictive analysis that determines genetic alterations in individuals for clinical purposes) and screening (programs that identify persons within a subpopulation who may be at a higher risk for a genetic disease or condition) are increasingly utilized to promote and improve the public's health. The proliferate use of genetic testing and screening may improve public health outcomes, but it also implicates significant ethical, legal, and social concerns. Within the context of conflicting ethical values from the individual and public health perspectives, individual values such as informed consent and privacy and discrimination protections must be respected. Legal and ethical attempts to exceptionalize genetic tests and information (as compared to other health information) to protect privacy and prevent discrimination are well intended, but can also be unjust and impractical. Respect for individual ethical rights has limits. Principles of public health ethics justify voluntary genetic testing and screening and sharing of data for population-based health purposes. Thus, individual rights should not always trump the use of genetic tests or screening programs (or information derived therefrom) for legitimate public health purposes. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.