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Eur J Hum Genet. 2012 Oct;20(10):1018-23. doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2012.53. Epub 2012 Mar 28.

Unravelling fears of genetic discrimination: an exploratory study of Dutch HCM families in an era of genetic non-discrimination acts.

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Department of Health, Ethics and Society, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.


Since the 1990s, many countries in Europe and the United States have enacted genetic non-discrimination legislation to prevent people from deferring genetic tests for fear that insurers or employers would discriminate against them based on that information. Although evidence for genetic discrimination exists, little is known about the origins and backgrounds of fears of discrimination and how it affects decisions for uptake of genetic testing. The aim of this article is to gain a better understanding of these fears and its possible impact on the uptake of testing by studying the case of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). In a qualitative study, we followed six Dutch extended families involved in genetic testing for HCM for three-and-a-half years. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 57 members of these families. Based on the narratives of the families, we suggest that fears of discrimination have to be situated in the broader social and life-course context of family and kin. We describe the processes in which families developed meaningful interpretations of genetic discrimination and how these interpretations affected family members' decisions to undergo genetic testing. Our findings show that fears of genetic discrimination do not so much stem from the opportunity of genetic testing but much more from earlier experiences of discrimination of diseased family members. These results help identify the possible limitations of genetic non-discrimination regulations and provide direction to clinicians supporting their clients as they confront issues of genetic testing and genetic discrimination.

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