As DNA tests have become much more sophisticated and more widely used to treat more diseases, doctors have stumbled onto a conundrum: while seeking to diagnose genetic disorders, there's a chance they may discover cases of incest. Long chains of identical DNA are a sign that the patient's parents were father-daughter, mother-son, or brother-sister. The dilemma for doctors who see such results is that they may be legally obligated to violate doctor-patient confidentiality and alert the police.
About half of kids born to parents who are first-degree relatives have a developmental disability, The Houston Chronicle's Todd Ackerman reports. Since the Baylor College of Medicine began using the new test six months ago, doctors have noticed a few--but less than 10--potential incest cases, according to Arthur Beaudet, a geneticist there. Beaudet wrote a letter to The Lancet about the bioethical questions raised by the testing. (, which is being used in a couple dozen of the biggest medical centers in the U.S. )
If the parent of the patient is underage, doctors have to report suspected child abuse. But if the parents are consenting adults, a doctor's obligations are murkier. Beaudet says doctors now have evidence for something they long suspected but couldn't prove was happening--instances of incest are often hidden by families--and medical institutions should take advantage of the new technology "to open people's eyes to what goes on and discourage the problem."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.