Bioethics Blogs

Genetic Testing in Torts Litigation – Justice or Injustice?

Genetic testing to identify the susceptibility of individuals to developing specific disorders or to confirm diagnoses is becoming increasingly common in clinical settings, where it raises a string of ethical and medical dilemmas, including about the scope of its use, its reliability and safety, and the management of confidentiality and disclosure of genetic information. Now, genetic testing is making its way into the courts–and it may be cause for concern. A recent decision by the Court of Appeal of Alberta, Canada ordering a woman to undergo a genetic test for Huntington’s disease (HD) shows how genetic tests can advance – or obstruct –justice.

In this case, Tammy Adacsi, a woman in her late thirties, sued the landlords of a house she was staying in after it caught fire. Three people died in the fire. Ms. Adacsi survived but was hospitalized for several months, after which she claimed that her debilitating injuries prevented her from ever working again. In response, the landlords requested that Ms. Adacsi be ordered to submit to a blood test to determine whether she is a carrier of the mutant gene for HD, an inherited neurodegenerative genetic disorder that causes uncontrolled movements, emotional problems, personality changes, and a decline in thinking and reasoning abilities. According to court records, HD runs in Ms. Adacsi’s family and medical professionals have indicated that some of her symptoms may be due to the disorder, and not the house fire.

Ms. Adacsi’s objected to the test, saying that it would cause her severe panic, stress and anxiety, and further her pain and suffering.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.