The completion of the human genome sequencing launches a new era in genetic medicine. With the decoding of the letters that constitute the recipe for human life, an opportunity now exists for scientists to discover new cures for cancer, heart disease, drug addiction, neurological disorders, and mental illness. In this brave new world of medicine, human genetics counselors will play an increasingly important role as patients and doctors struggle with the impact of these exciting breakthroughs.
Many ethical dilemmas have surfaced. For example, should people be tested to determine whether they might later develop a disease if there is no cure for it? Should fetal genetic testing extend beyond the health of a baby to screen for desirable physical and mental traits?
A study conducted by Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, D.C., found that 70% of health care practitioners surveyed had discussed genetics with their patients. Yet, fewer than 10% of those surveyed--including physical therapists, speech and hearing therapists, and social workers--were confident in their training in these issues.
"As the field broadens, the need for more counselors and more training will also increase," emphasizes Lauren Scheuer, a genetic counselor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York. …