Pharmacogenetics: ethical issues


Published 22/09/2003

Pharmaco cover
Research in pharmacogenetics investigates how differences in our genes can affect our response to medicines.
Blood tests

The introduction of pharmacogenetics will mean that many more patients are exposed to genetic testing than before. Currently, patients tend only to encounter genetics in the context of serious diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease.

  • Pharmacogenetics could make genetic testing much more routine. We make a number of recommendations to help ensure that the delivery of pharmacogenetics in clinical practice will be as straightforward as possible.
  • Reliable and easily accessible information from independent sources will be important, both for doctors and patients.
  • Health professionals need to be given training to communicate information about pharmacogenetics.
  • Additional resources will be needed to implement pharmacogenetic testing. Doctors will need more time with patients, to discuss tests and to take samples.
  • New facilities for testing will be needed, allowing results to be obtained quickly and efficiently. Tests could be carried out either in GPs’ surgeries, at a hospital, or at specialised testing facilities.

Chapter 5 of the report also makes specific recommnendations in answer to the following questions:

  • Should tests be made available directly over the counter or on the internet?
  • Will consent forms be necessary for pharmacogenetic tests in clinical practice?
  • Should patients be prescribed a medicine even if they do not wish to take an associated test?
  • Who will have access to pharmacogenetic information?
  • Should pharmacogenetic information be used by insurance companies?