The Council of Europe’s protocol on genetic testing for health purposes* came into force yesterday (Sunday 1 July). The protocol, an addition to the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, lays down rules on the conduct of genetic tests, including direct-to-consumer testing. It specifies the conditions under which tests may be carried out on persons not able to consent, with particular attention to children, and addresses privacy issues and the right to information obtained through genetic testing. It also covers counselling and screening.
The protocol enters into force thanks to its ratification by five Council of Europe member states (Norway, Montenegro, the Republic of Moldova, Slovenia and Portugal). It has also been signed by five others – the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Iceland and Luxembourg. The major push for ratification came from the Czech Presidency of the Council of Europe, following extensive lobbying by the Czech Society of Medical Genetics and Genomics. “It was a major effort on our part,” says Professor Milan Macek, President of the Czech Society, “and we are delighted by the result.”
“At a time when genetics and genomics are advancing so rapidly, issues surrounding genetic testing take on an even greater importance than before,” says ESHG President Professor Gunnar Houge, University of Bergen, Norway. “New technologies and discoveries provide huge potential for the improvement of human health, but alongside that can go the potential for misuse. The ESHG therefore welcomes the Council of Europe protocol and believes that it will be an important factor in ensuring that genetic progress continues to be applied in the most ethical way possible to the benefit of all concerned.”