• Journal Article

A place for genetic uncertainty: parents valuing an unknown in the meaning of disease

Citation

Whitmarsh, I., Davis, A. M., Skinner, D., & Bailey, D. (2007). A place for genetic uncertainty: parents valuing an unknown in the meaning of disease. Social Science and Medicine, 65(6), 1082-1093. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.04.034

Abstract

Klinefelter, Turner, and fragile X syndromes are conditions defined by a genetic or chromosomal variant. The timing of diagnosis, tests employed, specialists involved, symptoms evident, and prognoses available vary considerably within and across these syndromes, but all three share in common a diagnosis verified through a molecular or cytogenetic test. The genetic or chromosomal variant identified designates a syndrome, even when symptoms associated with the particular syndrome are absent. This article analyzes interviews conducted with parents and grandparents of children with these syndromes from across the USA to explore how they interpret a confirmed genetic diagnosis that is associated with a range of possible symptoms that may never be exhibited. Parents' responses indicate that they see the genetic aspects of the syndrome as stable, permanent, and authoritative. But they allow, and even embrace, uncertainty about the condition by focusing on variation between diagnosed siblings, the individuality of their diagnosed child, his or her accomplishments, and other positive aspects that go beyond the genetic diagnosis. Some families counter the genetic diagnosis by arguing that in the absence of symptoms, the syndrome does not exist. They use their own expertise to question the perceived certainty of the genetic diagnosis and to employ the diagnosis strategically. These multiple and often conflicting evaluations of the diagnostic label reveal the rich ways families make meaning of the authority attributed to genetic diagnosis