New York Times Weighs in on GC Conflict of Interest

On Saturday the New York Times ran a piece titled Conflict Potential Seen in Genetic Counselors, about whether it is ethical for genetic counselors who are paid by corporate labs to be counseling patients about genetic testing. As any reader of The DNA Exchange will know, the topic of conflict of interest in genetic counseling has been an important one of late for Robert Resta, one of our contributors, who has written here extensively on the subject. The Times article used a quote from a commenter on one of Bob’s earlier posts on the topic (see ‘Are We There Yet’).

Conflict of interest is a contentious and emotional issue among genetic counselors (in fact we’ve received some strong criticism regarding Bob’s posts). Because of its controversial nature, I think it’s a subject we tend to shy away from. But the NYT article exposes a serious gap – there is public discussion happening about our field, that we as an industry appear to be somewhat reluctant to discuss ourselves. The DNA Exchange exists to promote open dialogue on exactly this sort of topic. With coverage by a media outlet at the level of the New York Times, it is clear that this is an issue of growing public concern that we all should be talking about, if not researching more formally.

I’m curious about GC reactions to this article. Did you find the author’s point fair? Is ‘Conflict of Interest’ in genetic counseling something that concerns you? Is it something that you have to think about in your day-to-day work? If so, what should we be doing about it? Please share your comments, or cast your votes (anonymously) below.

1 Comment

Filed under Allie Janson Hazell

One response to “New York Times Weighs in on GC Conflict of Interest

  1. Janice Rinsky

    I think the NYT article raises some interesting points, but I also think it is highly unlikely that a GC would suggest a test only because they were employed by a certain company. Perhaps, all things being equal, they would order the test from the company who employs them rather than a competitor if the patient wants the test. I do believe the great majority of GC’s adhere to the NSGC code of ethics. If some of these labs didn’t hire GC’s, the tests would most likely be done anyway without genetic counseling and it would be an MD or other allied health professional doing the “counseling” and test ordering. Also, there would be many more (perhaps hundreds) of unemployed GCs if the labs did not hire them. Last, what about physicians or other health professional who discuss optional or controversial procedures with their patients, and perhaps get paid more if the patient elects the procedure. I think the potential for conflict of interest is just as great, if not greater, in other health professions.
    Just for the record, I am not employed by a commercial lab, but by a University Medical Center. I do know, and collaborate with, many GCs who do work in and for commercial labs and have never seen anything but the most ethical, professional standards being upheld. Even if I have not used a particular lab for a test, I have never felt a GC trying to coerce me to use their employer for a particular test. Thanks for starting this discussion.

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