Public Release:  New project on psychiatric, neurologic, and behavioral genetics

Hastings Center scholars join new center for research on ethical, legal, and social implications of psychiatric, neurologic, and behavioral genetics

The Hastings Center

(Garrison, NY) The Center for Research on Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic, and Behavioral Genetics at Columbia University Medical Center unveils its mission today with the launch of its website. Two Hastings Center research scholars are core faculty members of the new center, which was recently awarded a five-year grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute.

As understanding of the genetic contributions to psychiatric, neurologic, and behavioral (PNB) traits and disorders grows rapidly, this knowledge is quickly being translated into clinical practice. But the information presents particular ethical, legal, and social challenges because of what it could reveal about characteristics associated with individual identity and many of our most feared afflictions. Because of the potential for stigma linked to many PNB disorders and traits, this information may negatively affect how people view themselves and how others see them. Examination of the impact of PNB genetic information and consideration of the implications for normative judgments and public policy are therefore critically needed.

"Scientific findings regarding PNB traits must be discussed with special attention to the human and social context because such traits and disorders-from Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, and depression to empathy, aggression, and intelligence-can touch our sense of who we are as persons," said Erik Parens, PhD, a senior research scholar at The Hastings Center. Parens and Josephine Johnston, LLB, MBHL, a Hastings Center research scholar and director of research, are core faculty members of the new center, based in the Department of Psychiatry. "The new center is uniquely situated to offer such attention."

The center is focusing on three areas: 1) the impact of PNB genetic information in clinical and research contexts on patients, family members, and clinicians, including effects on treatment choices, health and lifestyle decisions, identity, and self-image; 2) the impact of PNB genetic information in nonclinical contexts in which such information may affect perceptions of autonomy and responsibility for behavior, with a special focus on attributions of responsibility in the judicial process and in everyday life; and 3) data to suggest how PNB genetic information should be used in policy judgments related to clinical contexts (e.g., diagnostic and treatment decisions), research contexts (e.g., access to genetic data), and nonclinical contexts (e.g., legal rules and health policy).

Parens and Johnston will lead the new center's investigation into the meaning of PNB genetics information and how it should be used in policies and practices, as well as the translation of the center's work into formats that can inform policies and practices.

"Our center offers the opportunity to advance knowledge of the ethical, legal, and social implications of one of the most rapidly developing areas of genetics. Drawing on our empirical studies and input from key stakeholders, we will develop strategies to guide the use of PNB genetic data in clinical and research settings, as well as in courts, legislatures, and regulatory agencies," said Paul Appelbaum, MD, director of the center and of the Division of Law, Ethics and Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. "By integrating empirical researchers with experts in ethics, economics, law, and public policy, we hope to point the way toward beneficial use of the latest scientific findings in this exciting new area of genetics."

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Contact: Susan Gilbert, public affairs and communications manager
The Hastings Center
845-424-4040 x244
gilberts@thehastingscenter.org

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