Decision-Making Through Dialogue: Reconfiguring Autonomy in Genetic Counseling

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Nondirective genetic counseling developed as a means of promoting informed and independent decision-making. To the extent that it minimizes risks of coercion, this counseling approach effectively respects client autonomy. However, it also permits clients to make partially informed, poorly reasoned or ethically questionable choices, and denies counselors a means of demonstrating accountability for the use of their services. These practical and ethical tensions result from an excessive focus on noncoercion while neglecting the contribution of adequate information and deliberative competence to autonomous decision-making. A counseling approach that emphasizes the role of deliberation may more reliably produce thoroughly reasoned decisions. In such an approach, characterized by dialogue, counselors are responsible for ensuring that decisions are fully informed and carefully deliberated. Counseling remains nonprescriptive, but in the course of discussion counselors may introduce unsolicited information and/or challenge what they believe are questionable choices. By this means clients can be better assured that the decisions they make are fully considered, while counselors demonstrate a limited degree of professional accountability.



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