Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 391–397

Genetics and psychiatry: a proposal for the application of the precautionary principle

Scientific Contribution


The paper suggests an application of the precautionary principle to the use of genetics in psychiatry focusing on scientific uncertainty. Different levels of uncertainty are taken into consideration—from the acknowledgement that the genetic paradigm is only one of the possible ways to explain psychiatric disorders, via the difficulties related to the diagnostic path and genetic methods, to the value of the results of studies carried out in this field. Considering those uncertainties, some measures for the use of genetics in psychiatry are suggested. Some of those measures are related to the conceptual limits of the genetic paradigm; others are related to present knowledge and should be re-evaluated.


Bioethics Genetics Precautionary principle Psychiatry Scientific uncertainty 


  1. American Psychiatric Association. 1994. DSM-IV Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Fourth edition. Washington D.C: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  2. Arribas-Ayllon, M., A. Bartlett, and K. Featherstone. 2010. Complexity and accountability: The witches’ brew of psychiatric genetics. Social Studies of Science 40(4): 499–524.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Borgna, E. 2003. Le intermittenze del cuore. Milano: Feltrinelli. Particularly chapter 1 Paesaggi invisibili (pp. 9–14).Google Scholar
  4. Civita, A. 1990. Ricerche filosofiche sulla psichiatria. Milano: Guerini.Google Scholar
  5. Civita, A. 1999. Psicopatologia. Un’introduzione storica. Roma: Carocci (Appendix 3).Google Scholar
  6. Commission of the European Communities. 2000. Communication from the Commission on the precautionary principle. Bruxelles.Google Scholar
  7. Council of Europe. 1997. Convention on human rights and biomedicine. Oviedo.Google Scholar
  8. Cowan, W.M., K.L. Kopnisky, and S.E. Hyman. 2002. The human genome project and its impact on psychiatry. Annual Review on Neuroscience 25: 1–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dick, D.M., B. Riley, and K.S. Kendler. 2010. Nature and nurture in neuropsychiatric genetics: Where do we stand? Dialogues in Clinical Neurosciences 12(1): 7–23.Google Scholar
  10. European Commission. 2004. 25 recommendations on the ethical, legal and social implications of genetic testing. Bruxelles.Google Scholar
  11. European Commission. 2007. Taking European knowledge society seriously. Report of the expert group on science and governance to the Science, Economy and Society Directorate, Directorate-General for Research, European Commission. Bruxelles.Google Scholar
  12. European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies to the European Commission. 2003. Opinion on the ethical aspects of genetic testing in the workplace. Opinion n.18. Bruxelles.Google Scholar
  13. Forzano, F., P. Borry, A. Cambon-Thomsen, S.V. Hodgson, A. Tibben, P. de Vries, et al. 2010. Italian appeal court: A genetic predisposition to commit murder? European Journal of Human Genetics 18: 519–521.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Human Genetics Commission. 2010. A common framework of principles for direct-to-consumer genetic testing services. London: Human Genetics Commission.Google Scholar
  15. Lakoff, A. 2005. Pharmaceutical reason. Knowledge and value in global psychiatry. Cambridge: University Press UK.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lewontin, R. 1992. Chapter 2. All in the genes? In Biology as ideology. The doctrine of DNA. New York: Harper Perennial. (pp. 17–37).Google Scholar
  17. Lewontin, R., S. Rose, L. Kamin, 1984. Not in our genes. New York: Pantheon books. Particularly chapter 8 Schizophrenia: the clash of determinisms (pp. 197–231).Google Scholar
  18. Liberatore, A., and S. Funtowicz. 2003. Democratising expertise, expertising democracy: What does this mean, and why bother? Science and Public Policy 30(3): 146–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. McMahon, F.J., N. Akula, T.G. Schulze, P. Muglia, F. Tozzi, S.D. Detera-Wadleigh, et al. 2010. Meta-analysis of genome-wide association data identifies a risk locus for major mood disorders on 3p21.1. Nature Genetics 42(2): 128–131.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. National Institute of Mental Health’s Genetics Workgroup. 1999. Report. Biological Psychiatry 45: 559–602.Google Scholar
  21. Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 1998. Mental disorders and genetics: the ethical context. London: Nuffield Council on Bioethics.Google Scholar
  22. Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 2002. Genetics and human behaviour: the ethical context. London: Nuffield Council on Bioethics.Google Scholar
  23. Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 2003. Pharmacogenetics. Ethical issues. London: Nuffield Council on Bioethics.Google Scholar
  24. Nöthen, M.M., V. Nieratschker, S. Cichon, and M. Rietschel. 2010. New findings in the genetics of major psychoses. Dialogues in Clinical Neurosciences 12(1): 85–93.Google Scholar
  25. Owen, M.J., A.G. Cardno, and M.C. O’Donovan. 2000. Psychiatric genetics: Back to the future. Mol Psychiatry 5(1): 22–31.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Plomin, R., J.C. DeFries, G.E. McClearn, and P. McGuffin. 2001. Behavioral genetics, 4th ed. New York: Worth Publishers.Google Scholar
  27. Psychiatric GWAS Consortium Coordinating Committee. 2009. Genomewide association studies: History, rationale, and prospects for psychiatric disorders. The American Journal of Psychiatry 166: 540–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rutter, M., A. Pickles, R. Murray, and L. Eaves. 2001. Testing hypotheses on specific environmental causal effects on behaviour. Psychological Bulletin 127: 291–324.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Rutter, M., and R. Plomin. 1997. Opportunities for psychiatry from genetic findings. The British Journal of Psychiatry 171(9): 209–219.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sartorius, N. 2006. Lessons from a 10-year global programme against stigma and discrimination because of an illness. Psychology, Health and Medicine 11(3): 383–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Shyn, S.I., J. Shi, J.B. Kraft, J.B. Potash, J.A. Knowles, M.M. Weissman, et al. 2011. Novel loci for major depression identified by genome-wide association study of sequenced treatment alternatives to relieve depression and meta-analysis of three studies. Molecular Psychiatry 16: 202–215.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Simon, C. 1997. Mad house: growing up in the shadow of mentally ill siblings. New York City: Doubleday. Adapted from the book. In National Institute of Mental Health’s Genetics Workgroup. Report. Biological Psychiatry 45: 559–602. p. 560.Google Scholar
  33. Sullivan, P.F., M.C. Neale, and K.S. Kendler. 2000. Genetic epidemiology of major depression: Review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Psychiatry 157: 1552–1562.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Uher, R., N. Perroud, M.Y. Ng, J. Hauser, N. Henigsberg, W. Maier, et al. 2010. Genome-wide pharmacogenetics of antidepressant response in the GENDEP Project. The American Journal of Psychiatry 167: 555–564.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. UNESCO. 1997. Universal declaration on human genome and human rights. Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  36. United Nation. 1992. The Rio declaration on environment and development. Rio de Janeiro: United Nation.Google Scholar
  37. World Health Organization. 2001. The world health report 2001. Mental health. New understanding, new hope. Geneva. Particularly chapter 2 Burden of mental and behavioural disorders (pp. 19–44).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bioethics UnitIRCCS Centro San Giovanni di Dio FatebenefratelliBresciaItaly

Personalised recommendations