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Eur J Hum Genet. 2003 Dec;11 Suppl 2:S49-87.

Population genetic screening programmes: principles, techniques, practices, and policies.

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INSERM SC11, Paris, France.


This paper examines the professional and scientific views on the principles, techniques, practices, and policies that impact on the population genetic screening programmes in Europe. This paper focuses on the issues surrounding potential screening programmes, which require further discussion before their introduction. It aims to increase, among the health-care professions and health policy-makers, awareness of the potential screening programmes as an issue of increasing concern to public health. The methods comprised primarily the review of the existing professional guidelines, regulatory frameworks and other documents related to population genetic screening programmes in Europe. Then, the questions that need debate, in regard to different types of genetic screening before and after birth, were examined. Screening for conditions such as cystic fibrosis, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, familial hypercholesterolemia, fragile X syndrome, hemochromatosis, and cancer susceptibility was discussed. Special issues related to genetic screening were also examined, such as informed consent, family aspects, commercialization, the players on the scene and monitoring genetic screening programmes. Afterwards, these questions were debated by 51 experts from 15 European countries during an international workshop organized by the European Society of Human Genetics Public and Professional Policy Committee in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 19-20, November, 1999. Arguments for and against starting screening programmes have been put forward. It has been questioned whether genetic screening differs from other types of screening and testing in terms of ethical issues. The general impression on the future of genetic screening is that one wants to 'proceed with caution', with more active impetus from the side of patients' organizations and more reluctance from the policy-makers. The latter try to obviate the potential problems about the abortion and eugenics issues that might be perceived as a greater problem than it is in reality. However, it seems important to maintain a balance between a 'professional duty of care' and 'personal autonomy'.

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