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ACP Says Genetic Testing to Reunite Separated Families Should Meet Ethical Principles

Washington, DC (July 11, 2018) — In a new policy issued today, the American College of Physicians (ACP) stated that immigrant families who have been separated at the border should be reunited as expeditiously as possible. If genetic testing is considered appropriate, it should be done in the least intrusive manner, with safeguards and attention to medical ethics.

“ACP strongly believes that the families who have been separated need to be reunited as quickly as possible. Should medical testing be appropriate, care must be taken in doing so that is consistent with the principles of medical ethics,” said Ana María López, MD, MPH, FACP, president, ACP.

ACP’s policy on Genetic Testing and Reuniting Families states:

Reuniting families who have been separated at the US border should proceed as expeditiously as possible but if it involves medical testing, testing should be done in the least intrusive manner; safeguard health and other information; and be a last resort means of identification. What testing is being done and why should be understandable to the individual (adult and child).

Government agencies and any other involved entities should not use the individual's samples or information beyond what is needed for prompt family reunification, nor should samples or information be stored in databases or otherwise. As HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Jonathan White has said, test results should be "solely used to accurately connect parents with children."

Genetic testing raises ethical issues and yields health and other results not only about an individual, but about entire families and ancestry. Commercial genetic testing can entail analysis of hundreds of thousands of parts of the human genome. In these circumstances of reuniting families, broad genetic testing is intrusive and likely unnecessary. It also raises significant privacy risks and can take extended time to generate results. If medical testing is needed to assist matching parent and child, rapid DNA fingerprinting paternity/maternity tests that give results in hours and that do not generate additional genetic information beyond paternity/maternity could be utilized. Testing of a broader scope, with safeguards, should only proceed if there are no other reasonable alternatives. When medical tests are used, informed consent and privacy issues must be addressed.

“Families who come to the United States seeking refuge have already endured extreme amounts of emotional and physical stress.  We must do what we can to ensure that in attempting to reunite families, we do not misuse medical tests,” concluded Dr. López.

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About the American College of Physicians

The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization in the United States with members in more than 145 countries worldwide. ACP membership includes 154,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internal medicine physicians are specialists who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness. Follow ACP on Twitter and Facebook.

Contact: Jackie Blaser, (202) 261-4572, jblaser@acponline.org