The identification of BRCA1 and BRCA2, two breast-ovarian cancer susceptibility genes, has brought many ethical and social issues to the forefront. This paper presents the results of a survey assessing the attitudes of 238 unaffected first-degree relatives of women with breast or ovarian cancer regarding the ethical issues of autonomy and confidentiality as they relate to BRCA1/2 testing. Baseline knowledge about BRCA1/2 and ethnic and psychosocial characteristics of our study population were examined to determine their association with women's attitudes. The majority of women (86-87%) felt that health care providers should not disclose the results of genetic tests for breast-ovarian cancer susceptibility to insurance companies or employers without written consent; however, only 56-57% felt that written consent should be required for a spouse or immediate family to receive this information. Ninety-eight percent of the women surveyed agreed that genetic testing for breast-ovarian cancer risk should be voluntary. Likewise, most women (95%) agreed that a person should be able to have genetic testing against a doctor's recommendation and 88% of the women surveyed agreed that parents should be able to consent to genetic susceptibility testing on behalf of their minor children. African American women were less concerned than Caucasian women about the protection of confidentiality in families, they were more likely to agree that an individual should still have access to testing when their physicians recommended against it, and they were more supportive of parents' rights to consent to genetic predisposition testing on behalf of their minor children. Women with coping styles characterized by higher optimism were more likely to favor access to genetic testing when a physician recommended against it, and to support parents' rights to consent to testing of their minor children. Therefore, the setting and manner in which genetic counseling and testing are delivered must be appropriately tailored to reflect these attitudinal differences and preferences.