Genetic Screening and Judaism

Using modern medical technology a wide range of genetic maladies can be detected, but is that a good thing?

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More difficult to resolve is the question as to whether or not an Ashkenazi Jewish woman with the gene for breast cancer BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 is obligated to tell that to a prospective spouse or to her husband if she is already married. Modem rabbinic authorities have not yet ruled on whether it is even appropriate to test for that gene in all Jewish women. It may be reasonable to do so in women with very strong family histories of breast cancer. But to what end? If they are found not to have the gene, the risk of developing breast cancer is still high. But women found to be positive for the gene may wish to take action such as more frequent mammography, prophylactic hormonal treatment, or even prophylactic mastectomies. Current rabbinic authorities need to address these urgent questions to provide guidance on the Jewish religious views on these genetic issues. Should genetic screening include diseases where the clinical outcome is uncertain? For example, in cystic fibrosis, Gaucher’s disease, hemophilia and other diseases, early death is rare and the disease expression may be mild, moderate, severe, or life threatening even through adolescence and early adulthood.

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Dr. Fred Rosner

Dr. Fred Rosner is Director of the Department of Medicine of the Mount Sinai Services at the Queens Hospital Center and Professor of Medicine at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He is a diplomat of the American Board of Internal Medicine and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.