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Inside the Ethics Committee - Series 9 - 3. Genetic Testing in Children

Alan is gravely ill with cancer, caused by a faulty gene. His children each have a 50 percent chance of inheriting it. Their mother Rachel wants them tested. Should she be allowed?

Alan is in his late thirties when he is diagnosed with lung cancer. A genetic test reveals that he has Li Fraumeni Syndrome, a fault in a gene which predisposes him to cancer.

Alan starts chemotherapy but the treatment takes its toll. He and his wife Rachel try to resume family life - they have three children and Rachel is pregnant. But over the coming months Alan's health deteriorates further and eventually Alan dies.

Soon after his death, Rachel gives birth to their baby. Over the next eighteen months she's increasingly unnerved by the pattern that's now emerging in Alan's extended family. Two of his siblings have died from cancer and there are tumours developing in other siblings, and in some of their children. Rachel is extremely worried that some of her own children, aged 2 to 12 years, may also carry the genetic fault.

Rachel visits a genetics service and asks them to test her four children for Li Fraumeni Syndrome. The genetic counsellor explains that children are not usually tested for this condition as there is little benefit in knowing - while there's a high risk of cancers developing in affected children, there is no reliable way of detecting these cancers early. Rachel remains committed - she wants to know if any of her children carry the faulty gene.

Should the genetic team allow her to have her children tested?

  • Broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 10:15PM Sat, 24 Aug 2013
  • Available until 12:00AM Thu, 1 Jan 2099
  • First broadcast BBC Radio 4, 9:00AM Thu, 22 Aug 2013
  • Categories
  • Duration 43 minutes

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