Cracking Your Genetic Code raises bioethics issues

Published on March 28, 2012 at 9:26 AM · No Comments

Will genetic testing and personalized medicine change the way you think about your life? Should it? What can you really learn about your future from direct-to-consumer genetic tests-or even from whole genome scanning, which is becoming increasingly affordable? And what about your privacy: how well is your genetic information protected?

These and other bioethics issues are raised in Cracking Your Genetic Code, a NOVA special produced in association with The Hastings Center that airs on PBS on March 28, at 9 pm/8c. And the discussion continues at Help with Hard Questions, The Hastings Center's first website created for the general public. Help With hard Questions is an online community that aims to help people think through the ethical dimensions of dilemmas arising from advances in science and medicine-advances like genetic screening and personalized medicine, as well as reproductive technologies, children's mental health, and advanced illness.

"Advances in medicine and science hold tremendous promise," says Mary Crowley, Director of Public Affairs and Communications at The Hastings Center. "But they also raise new questions about such issues as sharing the results of genetic tests with family and balancing caretaking with other responsibilities as more and more families struggle with illnesses like Alzheimer's disease. Because bioethics is personal, The Hastings Center is bringing its 43 years of research on these topics to a public audience with Help with Hard Questions."

"Since its founding in 1969, The Hastings Center has championed an informed and encompassing dialogue on bioethics issues affecting individuals, families, and society. Our new website aims to bring this conversation directly to a broader public," says Thomas Murray, President of Hastings. "We have always believed that everyone's perspectives matter. And we also believe that people want to connect their ethical values with the choices they face, and that a well-informed and respectful conversation is the best way to accomplish that. Help with Hard Questions is the latest manifestation of that belief."

Registered visitors to the site are able to ask about bioethical dilemmas and comment on those faced by others. An advisory board of bioethicists helps frame the moral issues involved and dialogue is encouraged. Help with Hard Questions does not provide medical advice.

Cracking Your Genetic Code also includes educational resources and interactive scenarios at NOVA's website, including expert Q&As with Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and a leader of the Human Genome Project; Ronald Green, the Eunice & Julian Cohen Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values at Dartmouth College; Eric S. Lander, professor of biology at MIT, director of the Broad Institute, and a leader of the Human Genome Project; and Thomas Murray, who was a presidential appointee to the National Bioethics Advisory Committee where he was chair of the genetics subcommittee from 1996 - 2001. Through PBS Learning Media, a curated set of educational resources are widely available to professionals and hundreds of thousands of teachers, extending the impact of this Hastings-Nova collaboration.

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