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From the Managing Editor: Rescue via Genetic Findings

Two articles in this issue of the Hastings Center Report (May-June 2018) argue that having knowledge of genetic mutations can entail a moral responsibility to rescue others. In the lead article, Madison Kilbride, a philosopher at the Perelman School of Medicine, assigns to the patient, under certain conditions, a task physicians are prohibited from taking on without patient consent: to disclose a finding of a serious, clinically actionable genetic mutation to the patient’s relatives who are likely to have the same mutation. Kilbride emphasizes that the responsibility to family members that comes with such a finding has nothing to do with special obligations, duties to people with whom one has special relationships, such as people one lives with, works with, or loves. Rather, Kilbride maintains, the patient’s duty to warn is grounded, in the principle of rescue; “another person . . . who just happens to be the patient’s relative . . . is at risk of suffering serious harm.” In an article on disclosing incidental findings, Haley Sullivan and Benjamin Berkman, both at the National Institutes of Health, consider the ethical professional responsibility of those conducting genetic research on human subjects in low- and middle-income countries, where many people are made vulnerable by the scarcity and inferiority of medical and other resources.

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