Ethics in the new genomics era has become an increasingly complex subject that often arouses passion and confusion. Although 50 years have elapsed since the elucidation of the DNA molecule, the recent near-complete sequencing of the human genome has sharply accelerated the incorporation of genetics into the medical mainstream. Along with these scientific advances, however, have surfaced challenges, liabilities, and issues regarding the processing and management of genetic information as they relate to core ethical principles such as respect for autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice. Institutions and state and federal governments have initiated systematic and preemptive measures in education, resource development, and protective legislation to address these cardinal ethical issues. Genetic research is also being scrutinized carefully by institutional review boards, an activity that should not be perceived as being adversarial but rather as a protective shield for investigators and research participants alike. Ultimately, it is hoped that genomics medicine will diminish rather than enhance existing sex-, race-, and socioeconomic class-based inequities in health care access and delivery. This article describes some but not all aspects of the ethical, legal, and social implications of genomics in clinical practice.
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