Gene test results in negative feelings

July 4, 1997

Julia Hinde reports on the British Psychological Society's health psychology conference

A positive genetic test for the incurable Huntington's disease affects sibling and other family relationships, according to new research at Exeter University.

With genetic tests becoming available for a greater number of conditions, scientists at Exeter are assessing the effects positive and negative results have on families.

Nicky Main, and colleagues Chris Eiser and Peter Turnpenny, interviewed sets of siblings who all stood a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the late onset of Huntington's disease. The condition leads to a breakdown in the central nervous system, dependency and usually death within 15 to 20 years. The test can conclusively tell whether a person will develop the condition.

She found that in groups of siblings where no positive tests were recorded, relationships between brothers and sisters did not change, but in each instance of a positive result changes in relationships were recorded.

Feelings of guilt, jealousy and protectiveness were all described. In one case, for instance, a stronger bond developed between the two siblings who were found to be positive, leaving the remaining sibling feeling partly alienated.

"These tests have implications over and above siblings," Miss Main said. "Partners and other family members are also involved and must not be forgotten in the counselling process."

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