Using the best interests standard to decide whether to test children for untreatable, late-onset genetic diseases

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 32 (4):375 – 394 (2007)
Abstract
A new analysis of the Best Interests Standard is given and applied to the controversy about testing children for untreatable, severe late-onset genetic diseases, such as Huntington's disease or Alzheimer's disease. A professional consensus recommends against such predictive testing, because it is not in children's best interest. Critics disagree. The Best Interests Standard can be a powerful way to resolve such disputes. This paper begins by analyzing its meaning into three necessary and jointly sufficient conditions showing it: is an "umbrella" standard, used differently in different contexts, has objective and subjective features, is more than people's intuitions about how to rank potential benefits and risks in deciding for others but also includes evidence, established rights, duties and thresholds of acceptable care, and can have different professional, medical, moral and legal uses, as in this dispute. Using this standard, support is given for the professional consensus based on concerns about discrimination, analogies to adult choices, consistency with clinical judgments for adults, and desires to preserve of an open future for children. Support is also given for parents' legal authority to decide what genetic tests to do.
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