Judge allows paternity test for DNA disease analysis


Spencer v Anderson (Paternity Testing) [2016] EWHC 851 (Fam) – read judgment

A fascinating case in the Family Division throws up a number of facts that some may find surprising. One is that this is the first time the courts in this country have been asked to direct post-mortem scientific testing to establish paternity. The other is that DNA is not covered by the Human Tissue Act, because genetic material does not contain human cells. One might wonder why the statute doesn’t, given that DNA is the instruction manual that makes the  human tissue that it covers – but maybe updating the 2004 law to cover genetic material would create more difficulties than it was designed to resolve.

The facts can be briefly stated. The applicant had been made aware of his possible relationship to S, who had died of bowel cancer some years before. When S had presented with the disease, it turned out that there was a family history of such cancer. The hospital treating him therefore took a blood sample and extracted DNA from it to test for high-risk genes. If the applicant was the son of the deceased he would have a 50% risk of inherited predisposition to bowel cancer. This risk would be mitigated by biannual colonoscopies. Continue reading

Is it homophobic to turn away gay blood donors?

mike 0010

mike 0010

Léger (Judgment) [2015] EUECJ C-528/13 (29 April 2015) – read judgment

Blood donation centres all over Europe are grateful for volunteers, but sometimes people don’t make it through the assessment process.  Restrictions on male homosexual blood donors are particularly tricky, because they fly in the face of equality, whilst reflecting our current, no doubt inadequate, understanding of how infectious diseases are transmitted, and how long pathogens remain viable in human blood.

This case started when a French citizen, M. Léger, presented himself at his local blood donation centre. He was turned down after interview. The relevant law in France implements two EU Directives on blood donation which lay down specific conditions regarding eligibility.

Legal background

This was a request to the European Court (CJEU) for a preliminary ruling on Directive 2002/98/EC which imposes safety standing on the collection of blood for therapeutic use (the “Blood Directive”). It requires that blood should only be taken from individuals “whose health status is such that no detrimental effects will ensue as a result of the donation and that any risk of transmission of infectious diseases is minimised”. It also states that potential donors should be assessed by way of interview for their suitability. Continue reading

From base pairs to the bedside: medical confidentiality in a changing world

DNA database impact on human rightsThis week David Cameron announced plans  to introduce whole genome mapping for cancer patients and those with rare diseases within the NHS. 

Single gene testing is already available across the NHS ranging from diagnosing cancers to assessing patients’ risk of suffering side effects from treatment, but this initiative will mean that the UK will be the first country in the world to introduce the technology within a mainstream health system, with up to 100,000 patients over three to five years having their whole genome – their personal DNA code –sequenced. According to Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies

The genome profile will give doctors a new, advanced understanding of a patient’s genetic make-up, condition and treatment needs, ensuring they have access to the right drugs and personalised care far quicker than ever before.

What will this mean for medical confidentiality?  The official announcement ends with the following declaration:

1. Genome sequencing is entirely voluntary. Patients will be able to opt out of having their genome sequenced without affecting their NHS care.

2.  Whole genome sequence data will be completely anonymised apart from when it is used for an individuals own care.

3. A number of ways to store this data will be investigated. The privacy and confidentiality of NHS patients will be paramount in this decision. Continue reading

Can we keep our genomes quiet? Some suggestions from the US

DNA database impact on human rights

I have posted previously on the logistical difficulties in legislating against genetic discrimination.

The prospect that genetic information not only affects insurance and employment opportunities is alarming enough. But it has many other implications: it could be used to deny financial backing or loan approval, educational opportunities, sports eligibility, military accession, or adoption eligibility.  At the moment,  the number of documented cases of discrimination on the basis of genetic test results is small. This is probably due to the relatively few conditions for which there are currently definitive genetic tests, coupled with the expense and difficulty of conducting these tests. But genetic discrimination is a time bomb waiting to be triggered and the implications of whole genome sequencing (WGS) are considered in a very interesting and readable report by the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues  Privacy and Progress in Whole Genome Sequencing. 

Continue reading