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Genetic screening of newborns unlikely

18 August 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 221

Baroness Helena Kennedy, chair of the UK's Human Genetics Commission (HGC) has said in an interview with the UK's Financial Times that the HGC is likely to reject proposals to genetically screen all newborn babies. In a White Paper issued in June 2003, the government proposed new measures to strengthen existing genetics services, and incorporate new genetic technology into other areas of healthcare. John Reid, the newly appointed Health Secretary, pledged £50 million additional genetics funding over the next three years.

The White Paper raised the possibility of 'personalised' healthcare in the future, where an individual's genetic profile is used in predicting common illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. It also revealed that the HGC would be asked to look at the issues surrounding the testing and storing of DNA samples from all newborn babies. At the time, Reid said 'increasing understanding of genetics will bring more accurate diagnosis, more personalised prediction of risk and more targeted and effective use of existing drugs'.

Baroness Kennedy told the Financial Times that she thought 'in Britain there would be very strong resistance to the idea that every child would have their genome mapped and that it sits on a computer in the GP's surgery'. She said that it would be difficult to maintain public confidence that the information would remain protected, for example from employers, and warned that the NHS was not equipped to handle the huge amount of genetic information that screening would produce. In addition, she pointed out, genetic profiles for all newborn babies could be misleading since they may be affected by environmental and other factors.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Fears over genetic profiles for all
The Observer |  17 August 2003
Genetic tests for newborns 'unlikely'
BBC News Online |  16 August 2003
Questioning the ethics of genetics
The Financial Times |  16 August 2003
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