Disclosure, confidentiality, and families: Experiences and attitudes of those with genetic versus nongenetic medical conditions

Laura Plantinga, Marvin R. Natowicz, Nancy E. Kass, Sara Chandros Hull, Lawrence O. Gostin, Ruth R. Faden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Despite policy attention to medical privacy and patient confidentiality, little empirical work exists documenting and comparing experiences of persons with genetic versus nongenetic medical conditions concerning persons' disclosure to others as well as their views about appropriate confidentiality to and within families. The goal of this cross-sectional interview study with nearly 600 participants was to document and compare the experiences, attitudes, and beliefs of persons with strictly genetic conditions to those of persons with or at risk for other serious medical conditions in terms of the degree to which they have disclosed to others that they have the condition and their views about how others ought to maintain the confidentiality of that information. While almost all participants reported that family members knew about their condition, results suggest participants want to control that disclosure themselves and do not want doctors to disclose information to family members without their knowledge. Similarly, participants do not think family members should be able to get information about them without their knowledge but feel overwhelmingly that it is a person's responsibility to disclose information about hereditary conditions to other family members. Ambivalence about confidentiality was evident: while most participants did not mind doctors sharing information with other doctors when it was for their benefit, the majority also felt that doctors should be punished for releasing information without their permission The views and experiences reported here generally did not differ by whether participants had genetic versus nongenetic conditions, suggesting that the extensive policy focus on genetic information may be unwarranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-59
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Medical Genetics - Seminars in Medical Genetics
Volume119 C
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 15 2003


  • Confidentiality
  • Cross-sectional survey
  • Disclosure
  • Family members
  • Hereditary disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)

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