Genetic Risk: The New Frontier for the Duty to Warn

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Mental health professionals usually think of the “duty to warn” in the context of mental illness. However, two state appellate courts have endorsed a duty to warn when children of a patient may be at risk genetically for acquiring the disease of their parents. In these cases, the courts held that a physician's legal obligations extended beyond his or her patient to the patient's children. This article discusses these cases, as well as issues regarding implementation of such a duty and the implications for the physician–patient relationship in a health care environment that will be dominated increasingly by genetics issues. The article concludes that it is premature to apply a duty to warn to the treatment of mental illness and to concerns regarding future criminal behavior.

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Behavioral Sciences & the Law, v. 19, issue 3, p. 405-421