Mental disorders and genetics: the ethical context


Published 01/09/1998

Mental disorders and genetics cover
Research into the genetics of mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and depression, may help diagnosis and treatment. This report considers the ethical concerns raised, for example, around reproductive decisions and stigma.
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  1. To survey the current field of research relating to the genetics of mental disorders and to report on recent and prospective advances.
  2. In particular, to review:
    1. whether there are sufficiently firm criteria for diagnosis;
    2. how substantial the evidence is implicating genetic influences.
  3. To review the potential clinical applications of the research.
  4. To define and consider ethical, social and legal issues arising from work on the genetic aspects of mental disorders and identify those which are additional or complementary to the issues dealt with in the Council’s report Genetic screening: ethical issues. Such matters may include:
    1. the ethics of research on the genetics of mental disorders involving human subjects, including particular groups such as children and detained patients;
    2. when is it appropriate to translate research findings into clinical or social practice?
    3. genetic counselling for mental disorders in the context of adult onset disorders, of children and in prenatal diagnosis;
    4. the particular impact of the diagnosis of a genetic risk on the individual, including an individual child or fetus, or on other members of the family;
    5. stigma and responsibility: will genetic knowledge increase or decrease the stigma suffered by those with mental disorders and the responsibility perceived by or assigned to relatives?
    6. the implications of the use of genetic findings in the courts and other legal proceedings;
    7. the implications of the use of genetic findings for access to insurance, employment, education and healthcare.