Advances in genetics create increasing possibilities of diagnosing and preventing genetic disease. In most countries, the community is poorly informed about the role of genetic factors in human disease and about genetic testing and its social, emotional, and ethical implications. School education about genetics may improve this situation. Students are, of course, the adults of the future and the potential users of the new genetic tests. To gain further insight into the perception of genetic risk of adolescents and their perception of the new genetic techniques and as a starting point for setting up an adequate information campaign in Flanders, we assessed the opinions and beliefs of students with regard to health, genetic diseases, genetic risk, and genetic testing.
A standardised interview and questionnaire were administered within the scope of the two yearly medical check up of 166 fifth grade students. They were randomly selected from the group of all fifth grade high school students in seven different schools.
This paper focuses on the attitudes of adolescents towards obtaining genetic information, towards prenatal diagnosis and pregnancy termination. Adolescents in Flanders are interested in being informed about genetic risks and genetic diseases and in making use of prenatal diagnosis because they want to make informed reproductive decisions in the future and to be emotionally prepared for the birth of an affected child. They adopt a critical attitude towards pregnancy termination. The association between these attitudes and several relevant factors was investigated. This showed significant correlations between some attitudes and general health related prevention, perceived burden of genetic diseases, the importance of the value “own health”, the perceived role of society, and the regularity of religious practice. Some points for special attention were formulated with regard to information campaigns for adolescents.
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