Psychiatric Genomics and Mental Health Treatment: Setting the Ethical Agenda

American Journal of Bioethics 17 (4):3-12 (2017)
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Abstract

Realizing the benefits of translating psychiatric genomics research into mental health care is not straightforward. The translation process gives rise to ethical challenges that are distinctive from challenges posed within psychiatric genomics research itself, or that form part of the delivery of clinical psychiatric genetics services. This article outlines and considers three distinct ethical concerns posed by the process of translating genomic research into frontline psychiatric practice and policy making. First, the genetic essentialism that is commonly associated with the genomics revolution in health care might inadvertently exacerbate stigma towards people with mental disorders. Secondly, the promises of genomic medicine advance a narrative of individual empowerment. This narrative could promote a fatalism towards patients' biology in ways that function in practice to undermine patients' agency and autonomy, or, alternatively, a heightened sense of subjective genetic responsibility could become embedded within mental health services that leads to psychosocial therapeutic approaches and the clinician-patient therapeutic alliance being undermined. Finally, adopting a genomics-focused approach to public mental health risks shifting attention away from the complex causal relationships between inequitable socio-economic, political, and cultural structures and negative mental health outcomes. The article concludes by outlining a number of potential pathways for future ethics research that emphasizes the importance of examining appropriate translation mechanisms, the complementarity between genetic and psychosocial models of mental disorder, the implications of genomic information for the clinician-patient relationship, and funding priorities and resource allocation decision making in mental health.

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