Military Health Care Dilemmas and Genetic Discrimination: A Family’s Experience with Whole Exome Sequencing


Whole–exome sequencing (WES) has increased our ability to analyze large parts of the human genome, bringing with it a plethora of ethical, legal, and social implications. A topic dominating discussion of WES is identification of “secondary findings” (SFs), defined as the identification of risk in an asymptomatic individual unrelated to the indication for the test. SFs can have considerable psychosocial impact on patients and families, and patients with an SF may have concerns regarding genomic privacy and genetic discrimination. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) currently excludes protections for members of the military. This may cause concern in military members and families regarding genetic discrimination when considering genetic testing. In this report, we discuss a case involving a patient and family in which a secondary finding was discovered by WES. The family members have careers in the U.S. military, and a risk–predisposing condition could negatively affect employment. While beneficial medical management changes were made, the information placed exceptional stress on the family, who were forced to navigate career–sensitive “extra–medical” issues, to consider the impacts of uncovering risk–predisposition, and to manage the privacy of their genetic information. We highlight how information obtained from WES may collide with these issues and emphasize the importance of genetic counseling for anyone undergoing WES.