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Genes, Biology, Mental Health, and Human Rights: The Effects of Traumatic Stress as a Case Example 

Genes, Biology, Mental Health, and Human Rights: The Effects of Traumatic Stress as a Case Example
Genes, Biology, Mental Health, and Human Rights

Alexander C. McFarlane

and Richard A. Bryant

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date: 17 October 2017

Sandy McFarlane and Richard Bryant discuss the relationship of advances in genetics and neurobiology and human rights with particular reference to the case example of traumatic stress. They appraise positive and negative possibilities associated with providing biological information–the latter associated for example with employment and insurance. They place this in the context of the later 19th century preoccupation of the role of heredity in mental illness, and the prejudices, abuses, and atrocities that flowed from this. They review the implications of the impact of traumatic stress on genes and chromosomes, with implications for mental health, and the ethical dilemmas associated with genetic testing for participants (including denial of life opportunities) and families. They examine a range of risk factors for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which could constitute potential markers, problems with their reliability and predictive capacity, and the ethical problems arising. They also consider genetic screening, the rights of the unborn child, parental rights, and the potential psychosocial consequences and injustices for those children at high genetic risk, who may never express the genetic disorder. Such scenarios have profound, even alarming implications, and need to proceed with due regard to people’s rights.

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