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When is there a duty, a moral or possible legal responsibility to share a health condition?

by Harriet Berkal, Sept 21, 2021

Well, when the HIV era fell upon us, the question at hand was whether one was obliged to disclose their condition to other prospective sexual partners. It was deemed a criminal offence to knowingly have unprotected sex when a person had HIV.

“Disclosure and the law under Canada’s Criminal Code

An HIV-positive person is legally required to tell sexual partners about their HIV-positive status before having any sex that poses “a realistic possibility” of HIV transmission. This includes many particulars, but it speaks to accountability. And in this situation we aren’t referring to family members, but the public at large.

Let’s take this closer to the womb shall we? Family members share DNA, which could potentially alter the trajectory of one’s life. These days, technology offers us an inside look into some of our inheritable traits. That’s why companies such as “23 and Me” or, invite us to explore some of our traits within our nuclear ménage.

There is a plethora of genetic disorders existing within families. Some are clearly apparent such as Down syndrome, dystonia, Tourettes or Marfan Syndrome.

But what about the ones residing in your body that you can’t see, but could affect your health to the extent of a life or death outcome ? I’m thinking of ADD, mental health disorders or gene mutations. Are your brethren obligated to reveal to you these vital DNA linkages you have no idea about, which might be wreaking havoc within you?

Let’s explore a possible scenario where genetic sharing is key. If one sibling has a blood clotting disorder, such as prothrombin variant factor 2 or 5 which they inherited from the mother, do others have it as well?

Why is this important to know?

Well, let’s say that it runs within the blood of other siblings and their offspring. Picture a young woman of 18 acting responsibly in her desire for birth control. If she has zero knowledge that she too, may possess this blood clotting disorder, what if she strokes out trying birth control pills? She is trying to protect herself from pregnancy but doesn’t have a complete picture of why she should avoid taking “THE PILL.”

This begs the question, to what extent do we have a moral obligation to share our genetic mutations and history which certainly can pose harm to others, if not passed down?

Think about this in the current times of this pandemic. Would you take AstraZeneka if you knew there was a blood clotting disorder existing within your family, or opt for a different vaccine?

Families don’t always get along. Estrangement is not an uncommon element we see where members do not communicate with one another for decades or ever.

In my mind, it should be obligatory to notify others of disorders within a unit where you share DNA, so that no one suffers or worse. This should occur regardless of whether you get along or not. You all came from the same womb and benefit from such disclosures.

In my family, my maternal grandfather had breast cancer. He had the BRACCA gene. So, my gynaecologist had me tested for markers early on. Fortunately, I didn’t have any of them. But it does mean that my siblings should be tested to see if they are carriers. It can potentially affect the next generation.

We all know people who have adopted kids, largely because they know they possess certain genetic factors and aren’t prepared to take the risk of passing along, dystonia, certain mental health dispositions, Tay sachs disease, etc.

It’s common decency which dictates that we should owe medical information to those we might not like nor love, but who all evolved from the same parents.

With medical advances, we can spare medical impairments or alter lifestyles to try and ward off what might be inevitable or avoidable. Certain bullets we can’t dodge but with knowledge comes wisdom. Hell, we used to share toys, bedrooms, and meals with these folks. At one point we functioned as a family. Many are lucky to remain friends for life. But sadly, kinship doesn’t always look cohesive, even if you all might have dimples.

What makes us related - DNA.

I like to think of it as:





Listen to Sophie Sarbit Berkal sing "I'm Going to Live Till I Die" (MP3)

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