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N Biotechnol. 2012 Sep 15;29(6):757-68. doi: 10.1016/j.nbt.2012.03.002. Epub 2012 Mar 14.

Pharmacogenomics and personalized medicine: wicked problems, ragged edges and ethical precipices.

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  • 1Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences, College of Human Medicine, 965 Fee Road C-208, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1316, United States. fleck@msu.edu

Abstract

In the age of genomic medicine we can often now do the genetic testing that will permit more accurate personal tailoring of medications to obtain the best therapeutic results. This is certainly a medically and morally desirable result. However, in other areas of medicine pharmacogenomics is generating consequences that are much less ethically benign and much less amenable to a satisfactory ethical resolution. More specifically, we will often find ourselves left with 'wicked problems,' 'ragged edges,' and well-disguised ethical precipices. This will be especially true with regard to these extraordinarily expensive cancer drugs that generally yield only extra weeks or extra months of life. Our key ethical question is this: Does every individual faced with cancer have a just claim to receive treatment with one of more of these targeted cancer therapies at social expense? If any of these drugs literally made the difference between an unlimited life expectancy (a cure) and a premature death, that would be a powerful moral consideration in favor of saying that such individuals had a strong just claim to that drug. However, what we are beginning to discover is that different individuals with different genotypes respond more or less positively to these targeted drugs with some in a cohort gaining a couple extra years of life while others gain only extra weeks or months. Should only the strongest responders have a just claim to these drugs at social expense when there is no bright line that separates strong responders from modest responders from marginal responders? This is the key ethical issue we address. We argue that no ethical theory yields a satisfactory answer to this question, that we need instead fair and respectful processes of rational democratic deliberation.

PMID:
22433081
DOI:
10.1016/j.nbt.2012.03.002
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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