Moral Maze

Doctors of medicine swear the Hippocratic Oath, written some 2,500 years ago, declaring that they will protect the confidentiality of their patients. Sometimes they break that promise and are criticised; sometimes they keep it and are criticised. This week a woman is suing an NHS trust for not telling her about her father’s Huntington’s disease, which doctors had already diagnosed when she had her own child. Only after the child was born did she find out that she also carried the faulty gene for the degenerative, incurable brain disorder – with a 50% chance of passing it on. Her father had told doctors he didn’t want her to know because he feared she might kill herself or have an abortion. This tragic case is at the centre of a moral tussle between the duty of confidentiality and the duty of care. If our right to medical privacy is intrinsic to our freedom, security and sense of self, when – if ever – should it be overridden to prevent harm to others? That’s a problem doctors have faced for a long time, but now inherited conditions are setting us another moral conundrum: science is giving us the power to eradicate many of them entirely, through gene-manipulation. So, should we press on with stem cell therapy and selective IVF? Or should we slam on the brakes, conscious of the perils of playing God and of creating a world in which prospective parents can order the characteristics of their designer babies from a tick-box à la carte menu? Featuring Dr Michael Fay, Sir Jonathan Montgomery, Sandy Starr and Dr Helen Watt.

Producer: Dan Tierney

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