Genetics providers and the family covenant: connecting individuals with their families

Genet Test. 2003 Winter;7(4):315-21. doi: 10.1089/109065703322783671.


As genetic testing becomes more commonplace, medicine will likely face both family and individual demands for access to, and control of, test result information. Past research has emphasized confidentiality concerns of the individual and contrasted these claims with the "need to know" by others to avoid harm. These confidentiality concerns, based on individual self-interest, are challenged by a singularly important aspect of genetic testing-familial responsibility. As patients are often motivated to obtain genetic testing by an array of "other-directed" considerations toward their own family (such as love, fiduciary responsibility, gratitude, etc.), an accounting of these concerns is warranted. Understanding the relevance of family relationships and obligations facilitates a fuller informed consent for genetic testing. Genetic counselors and geneticists engaging in genetic counseling can account for the concerns of both individuals and their families using the family covenant-a helpful, innovative model to address proactively boundaries of privacy and information sharing within the family. This model focuses on two areas of discussion: (1) the demarcation of the boundaries of confidentiality; and (2) the definition of "family." The family covenant helps genetics providers consider what information "should" be confidential, and with respect to whom.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Disclosure
  • Family*
  • Genetic Counseling*
  • Genetic Services / ethics*
  • Genetic Testing / ethics
  • Genetic Testing / trends
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Professional-Patient Relations