Is Genetic Counseling for Mental Illness Playing God?

Because of serious mental illness being recognized as a real medical condition and a chemical imbalance in the brain and also because of its tendency to be hereditary, scientists have been conducting research to find a genetic marker or groups of genes that will determine a person’s subjectivity or likeliness to suffer from psychiatric illnesses.

Although it is highly controversial, scientists hope to be able to offer genetic counseling to the offspring of those suffering from mental illness in order to be able to treat and diagnose the illness earlier.

Because of the lack of knowledge of its determining factor, up until the present moment, psychiatrists are only able to diagnose based upon the reported symptoms of each individual, which has the propensity to be faulty if the patient does not report a symptom or recognize a symptom as a symptom.

Currently genetic disposition can be established for some illnesses. These illnesses include Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, and Huntington’s disease.

There are some setbacks currently with finding a genetic link to mental illnesses. One of the issues is that most mental illnesses are not determined by one gene only. There gene factors also vary depending upon their families and ethnicities.

The patient’s environments also have a strong influence on mental illness as well. So one gene alone can’t determine a person’s susceptibility to a mental illness, the person’s environment also plays just as much of a role.

And lastly there is the controversy that surrounds genetic testing for mental health illnesses. Those who oppose the testing are concerned about the confidentiality of the results of the genetic tests. The main concern is that insurance companies having access to the results and limiting or outright denying coverage to those with “pre-existing” illnesses.

It may also be possible for larger companies to have access to the information and discriminate on prospective employees because they are labeled or branded with the diagnosed illness.

They would also like to see the testing regulated by the federal government to make sure that it is valid and handled properly. Some would even like to see that genetic counseling be made mandatory. This could deter some people from becoming pregnant with a child that they are not able to provide the proper care for.

On the flipside, if the genetic counseling is made mandatory to determine whether the mother should give birth, the government in efforts to “normalize” society may try to abort all affected fetuses. Therefore choosing who deserves to live and who deserves to die.

If used solely for the purposes of diagnoses and treatment, then genetic counseling to determine mental illness would be very beneficial to society. However, if we use it to start playing God, then I find it highly unethical and inappropriate.

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