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Genetic testing for sale : implications of commercial BRCA testing in Canada Williams-Jones, Bryn

Abstract

Ongoing research in the fields of genetics and biotechnology hold the promise of improved diagnosis and treatment of genetic diseases, and potentially the development of individually tailored pharmaceuticals and gene therapies. Difficulty, however, arises in determining how these services are to be evaluated and integrated equitably into public health care systems such as Canada's. The current context is one of increasing fiscal restraint on the part of governments, limited financial resources being dedicated to health care, and rising costs for new health care services and technologies. This has led to increasing public debate in the last few years about how to reform public health care, and whether we should prohibit, permit or perhaps even encourage private purchase of health care services. In Canada, some of these concerns have crystallized around the issue of gene patents and commercial genetic testing, in particular as illustrated by the case of Myriad Genetics' patented BRACAnalysis test for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. While most Canadians who currently access genetic services do so through the public health care system, for those with the means, private purchase is becoming an option. This situation raises serious concerns - about justice in access to health care; about continued access to safe and reliable genetic testing supported by unbiased patient information; and about the broader effects of commercialization for ongoing research and the Canadian public health care system. Commercial genetic testing presents a challenge to health care professionals, policy analysts, and academics concerned with the social, ethical and policy implications of new genetic technologies. Using the Myriad case as an exemplar, tools from moral philosophy, the social sciences, and health policy and law will be brought to bear on the larger issues of how as a society we should regulate commercial research and product development, and more coherently decide which services to cover under public health insurance and which to leave to private purchase. Generally, the thesis is concerned with the question of "how best to bring capital, morality, and knowledge into a productive and ethical relationship" (Rabinow 1999, 20).

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