Ethics, genetic testing, and athletic talent: children's best interests, and the right to an open (athletic) future

Physiol Genomics. 2016 Mar;48(3):191-5. doi: 10.1152/physiolgenomics.00104.2015. Epub 2016 Jan 12.


In this paper we discuss the ethics of genetics-based talent identification programs in sports. We discuss the validity and reliability of the tests and the claims made by direct to consumer companies, before presenting a range of ethical issues concerning child-parent/guardian relations raised by these tests, which we frame in terms of parental/guardian duties, children's rights, and best interests. We argue that greater ethical emphasis needs to be put on the parental decision on the wellbeing on the child going forward, not on ex post justifications on the basis of good and bad consequences. Best interests decisions made by a third party seem to comprise both subjective and objective elements, but only a holistic approach can do justice to these questions by addressing the wellbeing of the child in a temporal manner and taking into account the child's perspective on its wellbeing. Such decisions must address wider questions of what a good (sports)parent ought do to help the child flourish and how to balance the future-adult focus necessary to nurture talent with the wellbeing of the child in the present. We conclude that current genetic tests for "talent" do not predict aptitude or success to any significant degree and are therefore only marginally pertinent for talent identification. Claims that go beyond current science are culpable and attempt to exploit widespread but naïve perceptions of the efficacy of genetics information to predict athletic futures. Sports physicians and health care professionals involved in sport medicine should therefore discourage the use of these tests.

Keywords: children; direct-to-consumer; ethics; future; genetics; talent.

MeSH terms

  • Aptitude*
  • Athletic Performance / ethics*
  • Child
  • Genetic Testing / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Parents