Making Sense of Genetic Uncertainty: The Role of Religion and Spirituality

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This paper argues that to the extent that religious and spiritual beliefs can help people cope with genetic uncertainty, a limited spiritual assessment may be appropriate in genetic counseling. The paper opens by establishing why genetic information is inherently uncertain and why this uncertainty can be medically, morally, and spiritually problematic. This is followed by a review of the range of factors that can contribute to risk assessments, including a few heuristics commonly used in responses to uncertainty. The next two sections summarize recent research on the diverse roles of religious and spiritual beliefs in genetic decisions and challenges to conducting spiritual assessments in genetic counseling. Based on these findings, religious and spiritual beliefs are posited as serving essentially as a heuristic that some people will utilize in responding to their genetic risks. In the interests of helping such clients, a limited spiritual assessment is recommended and described. Some of the challenges and risks associated with this limited assessment are discussed. Since some religious and spiritual beliefs can conflict with the values of medicine, some decisions will remain problematic.