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Duty to Counsel

All physicians who care for pregnant women or patients with genetic diseases have a duty to counsel their patients about the nature of the diseases, their probability of being passed on to children, and the diagnostic options available. A physician who does not offer genetic screening because he is opposed to abortion, or for any other reason, has a duty to refer the patient to another physician who can carry out the necessary counseling and testing. The physician has a duty to provide full information to the patient. There is no therapeutic exception to informing patients about potential risks to their children.

In some cases it may be necessary to give a patient medical information about another person. It is not possible to counsel the children of a patient with Huntington's disease without letting the children know about the parent's disease. Often the information will have been obtained with a release from the affected parent. If not, every effort should be made to protect the privacy of the other patient. Names and other identifying information should not be used, although it is probable that the patients can determine who is affected. There may also be situations in which the courts can help persons obtain necessary medical information about genetic diseases. In most states, adoption records are sealed, but the court that granted the adoption can order the records opened if there is a compelling reason for doing so.

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