Argumentation and risk communication about genetic testing: Challenges for healthcare consumers and implications for computer systems

As genetic testing for the presence of potentially health-affecting mutations becomes available for more genetic conditions, many people will soon be faced with the decision of whether or not to have a genetic test. Making an informed decision requires an understanding and evaluation of the arguments for and against having the test. As a case in point, this paper considers argumentation involving the decision of whether to have a BRCA gene test, one of the first commercially available genetic tests. First, argumentation in a five-page patient brochure from a for-profit company that provides BRCA gene testing, is analyzed. Next, for comparison, argumentation on BRCA testing in materials for healthcare consumers written by a not-for-profit health plan and a government organization, is analyzed. In view of the challenges identified by considering these examples, this article discusses how argumentation-oriented computer systems may be able to help the healthcare consumer to make informed decisions about genetic testing.
Keywords argumentation  genetic testing  cancer risk communication
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DOI 10.1075/jaic.1.1.09gre
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