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Eur J Hum Genet. 2007 Jun;15(6):612-8. Epub 2007 Mar 28.

Communicating genetic information in families--a review of guidelines and position papers.

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  • 1Genetics Education and Health Research, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Royal Children's Hospital, Flemington Road, Parkville, VIC 3052, Australia.


This article aims to review ethical and clinical guidelines and policies addressing the communication of genetic information in families. Websites of national and regional bioethics committees, national human genetics societies, international health organisations, genetic interest groups and legal recommendations committees were searched for guidelines and policies. The databases Medline, Web of Science and Google Scholar were also utilised to search for additional guidelines relating to the communication of genetic information in families. The guidelines and policies included in this review are limited to those available in English. The search resulted in guidelines from 18 international, regional and national organisations from six countries pertaining to family communication of genetic information. The following ideals were common in their guidelines: (1) individuals have a moral obligation to communicate genetic information to their family members; (2) genetic health professionals should encourage individuals to communicate this information to their family members; and (3) genetic health professionals should support individuals throughout the communication process. The difference between the organisations' guidelines was the inclusion of information about the role of the health professional in supporting clients during the process of communicating genetic information to their family members. Only two recommendations suggested that the health professional should support their clients by identifying at-risk family members, but more guidelines recommended that directive counselling should be undertaken to encourage clients to communicate genetic information to their family members. In conclusion, the guidelines provide an overview of the role that genetic health professionals may undertake; however, there are gaps that need to be addressed.

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