Objectives—The development of predictive genetic tests provides a new area where consumers can gain knowledge of their health status and commercial opportunities. "Over-the-counter" or mail order genetic tests are most likely to provide information on carrier status or the risk of developing a multifactorial disease. The paper considers the social and ethical implications of individuals purchasing genetic tests and whether genetic information is different from other types of health information which individuals can obtain for themselves. Design—The discussion is illustrated by findings from a questionnaire survey of university students as potential consumers. Topics covered included what health tests they had already used, expectations of genetic tests, willingness to pay, who should have access to the results and whether there need to be restrictions on such tests. Sample—Six hundred and fifteen first-year students in the universities of Leuven, Cardiff, Central Lancashire, Vienna and Nijmegen studying either medicine or a non-science subject. Results—Students were enthusiastic about genetic tests and had high expectations of their accuracy and usefulness but most thought they should be available through the health service and a minority thought that some tests, for example for sex selection, should not be available at all. There were few differences in responses by sex or subject of study but some by country. The paper also considers ethical and social issues outside the scope of a questionnaire survey of this type. Conclusion—To address some of these issues the sale of genetic tests to individuals can be made subject to ethical guidelines or codes of practice, for example to protect vulnerable groups, but there are fundamental social and ethical questions which such guidelines cannot address.
This was an output of an EU funded project on genetic screening (Euroscreen 2) and reports on a questionnaire survey in the universities of Leuven, Cardiff, Central Lancashire, Vienna and Nijmegen. The data were presented to representatives of the genetic testing industry at a meeting in Brussels. RAE_import_type : Journal article RAE_uoa_type : Social Work and Social Policy