BMC Medical Ethics 21 (1):1-10 (2020)

Ainsley Newson
University of Sydney
BackgroundWhen a genetic mutation is identified in a family member, internationally, it is usually the proband’s or another responsible family member’s role to disclose the information to at-risk relatives. However, both active and passive non-disclosure in families occurs: choosing not to communicate the information or failing to communicate the information despite intention to do so, respectively. The ethical obligations to prevent harm to at-risk relatives and promote the duty of care by genetic health professionals is in conflict with Privacy laws and professional regulations that prohibits disclosure of information to a third party without the consent of the proband. In New South Wales, Australia, amendments to Privacy legislation permits such disclosure to living genetic relatives with the process defined under guidelines although there is no legal duty to warn. This study assessed NSW GHP’s awareness and experience of the legislation and guidelines.MethodsAn online survey collected demographics; theoretical knowledge; clinical scenarios to assess application knowledge; attitudes; confidence; experience with active non-disclosure. A link to correct answers was provided after completion. Knowledge scores above the median for non-parametric data or above the mean for parametric data were classified as ‘good’ or ‘poor’. Chi square tests assessed associations between confidence and knowledge scores.ResultsWhile many of the 37 participants reported reading the guidelines, there was limited awareness of their scope and clinical application; that there is no legal duty to warn; and that the threat does not need to be imminent to warrant disclosure. No association between confidence and ‘good’ theoretical or applied clinical knowledge was identified. Uncertainty of their professional responsibility was identified and in the several case examples of active non-disclosure that were reported this uncertainty reflected the need for further understanding of the guidelines in regard to the processes required before disclosure was initiated.ConclusionsThere is a need for further education and training about the guidelines associated with the legislation that would be relevant to support disclosure. The findings may inform future strategies to support introduction of policy changes in other jurisdictions where similar regulatory regimes are introduced.
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DOI 10.1186/s12910-020-0451-1
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