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J Pediatr Psychol. 2009 Jul;34(6):639-47. doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsn075. Epub 2008 Jul 22.

From genetics to genomics: ethics, policy, and parental decision-making.

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Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics, Seattle Children's Hospital, Seattle, WA 98101, USA.



Ethical evaluation of genetic testing in children is traditionally based on balancing clinical benefits and risks. However, this focus can be inconsistent with the general practice of respecting parental decision-making about their children's health care. We argue that respect for parental decision-making should play a larger role in shaping pediatric genetic testing practices, and play a similar role regarding decisions to use emerging genomic technologies.


Genomic testing involves the examination of thousands of DNA markers spanning genes throughout the genome and their interrelationships, yielding virtually limitless interpretations. We presume that parents and providers should proceed cautiously in applying genomic testing in children, as we explore how genomic testing will stress the fault lines of the traditional ethical analysis.


Empirical data about the psychosocial risks and benefits of genetic testing of children do not reveal serious harms, yet virtually no such data exist yet about genomic testing. Unless empirical social and behavioral data indicate that genomic testing is highly likely to cause serious harms to the children, parental decisions to obtain comprehensive genomic testing in their children should be respected. Once comprehensive genomic testing of children becomes routine, resultant information may be more easily integrated by families than anticipated.


Research on the social and behavioral impact of comprehensive genomic testing on children and their families is needed to further inform parents, clinicians, and policy makers.

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