Ethics Behav 1992 ;2(2):129-39
Mrs. Thomas, age 50, became concerned after experiencing intermittent uncontrollable jerky body movements. She contacted her family physician and, following a full diagnostic evaluation, learned that she is experiencing early symptons of Huntington's disease. This illness is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system, which will ultimately lead-to physical incapacity, dementia, and death. The disease is known to be transmitted genetically as an autosomal dominant trait, with the first onset of symptoms usually occurring in middle age. For example, the child of an affected person has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene, and thus the illness, and a 50% chance of passing it on to their children. Mrs. Thomas is unaware of any history of the disease among others in her family; however, her father was an adopted child, who died in an automobile accident at the age of 37 and may well have been a carrier of the gene. It is highly likely that other members of her family, including her siblings and children, may be carriers of the gene and ultimately transmit it to their children before clinical symptoms of the disease develop. Her own son married last year, and her two brothers have children of childbearing age. Genetic screening and counseling are available for those at risk for Huntington's disease; however, Mrs. Thomas does not want to discuss her diagnosis with family members, fearing that they may blame her and that she may lose her job and friends if the information becomes public knowledge. What advice would you give to the health-care providers caring for Mrs. Thomas regarding the assorted rights, duties, and obligations surrounding this situation?