Disclosing Genetic Information to Family Members About Inherited Cardiac Arrhythmias: An Obligation or a Choice?

Rick D. Vavolizza, Isha Kalia, Kathleen Erskine Aaron, Louise B. Silverstein, Dorit Barlevy, David Wasserman, Christine Walsh, Robert W. Marion, Siobhan M. Dolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Inherited cardiac arrhythmias such as long QT syndrome and Brugada syndrome, present clinical as well as ethical, legal, and social challenges. Many individuals who carry a deleterious mutation are largely asymptomatic and therefore may not be diagnosed until after the occurrence of a personal or family member’s cardiac event. The familial nature of inherited genetic information raises numerous ethical, legal, and social issues regarding the sharing of genetic information, particularly when an individual found to carry a deleterious mutation refuses to disclose his or her results to at-risk family members who could benefit from life-saving treatments. This qualitative study sought to understand the experiences with genetic testing for individuals (n = 50) with a personal or family history of cardiac events or sudden death. Unstructured in-person focus groups or interviews were conducted for each participant in the study. The recordings of these interviews were transcribed verbatim and subsequently analyzed and coded. Participants’ comments regarding sharing of genetic information centered around four main themes: (1) motivation to disclose; (2) extent of disclosure; (3) effect of disclosure on family dynamics; and (4) reasons for not sharing genetic information. The majority of individuals believed that affected individuals are obligated to disclose genetic information to family members. In the era of personalized medicine, the disclosure of genetic information provides individuals the opportunities to learn about the genetics, disease characteristics, and treatment options in order to reduce morbidity and mortality in themselves and their family members. Further research is necessary to identify and explore the barriers to sharing genetic information with at-risk family members.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)608-615
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Genetic Counseling
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 30 2015


  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Disclosing genetic information
  • Ethical, Legal, and social issues
  • Family communication
  • Genetic counseling
  • Long QT syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)


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