Ethical Challenges in Teaching Genetics for Medical Students
Published on Dec 15, 2014in Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education
· DOI :10.1128/jmbe.v15i2.776
Although inclusion of ethics as a study course in medical students’ curricula is a common practice, special approaches in teaching ethics in the context of genetics should be considered. In the realm of genomics, there are several ethically sensitive topics such as diagnosis of genetic diseases, in vitro fertilization, and identification of genetic susceptibility to common diseases. In addition, in communication with the general public, genetic terms should be used with caution. Demonstration of the phenotypes of affected individuals should be regarded as a particular aspect of teaching genetics. In a description of a patient’s phenotype, not only is it necessary to provide scientifically precise characteristics of a patient; voice timbre, facial expression, and body language should also be carefully controlled. Furthermore, in medicine, the theory–practice gap is a problematic aspect, and students often find it difficult to apply knowledge on ethical issues to real situations in clinics. For this purpose, clinical cases are presented during classes and their analysis requires a very respectful attitude on the part of both students and lecturers. For many genetic diseases, evaluation of minor anomalies such as a curved fifth finger, low situated ears, or missing of some teeth is required. Some minor anomalies are found in healthy individuals too, and interpretation of such features must therefore be considered carefully. This article describes our experiences in teaching genetics at Riga Stradins University, ethical problems faced while teaching genetics, and their solutions.