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scientific articles

Understanding sickle cell carrier status identified through newborn screening: a qualitative study

key information

source: European Journal of Human Genetics

year: 2010

authors: Miller FA, Paynter M, Hayeems RZ, Little J, Carroll JC, Wilson BJ, Allanson J, Bytautas JP, Chakraborty P


The expansion of newborn screening (NBS) is increasing the generation of incidental results, notably carrier results. Although carrier status is generally understood to be clinically benign, concerns persist that parents may misunderstand its meaning, with deleterious effects on children and their families. Expansion of the NBS panel in Ontario, Canada in 2006 to include sickle cell disorders drew attention to the policy challenge of incidental carrier results. We conducted a study of consumer and provider attitudes to inform policy on disclosure. In this paper, we report the results of (i) qualitative interviews with health-care providers, advocates and parents of carrier infants and (ii) focus groups with new parents and individuals active with the sickle cell community. Lay and provider participants generally believed that carrier results were clinically insignificant. However, some uncertainty persisted among lay consumers in the form of conjecture or doubt. In addition, consumers and advocates who were most informed about the disease articulated insistent yet dissonant claims of clinical significance. Meanwhile, providers referenced research knowledge to offer an equivocal assessment of the possibility and significance of clinically symptomatic carrier status. We conclude that many interpretations of carrier status are in circulation, failing to fit neatly into the categories of ‘clinically significant’ or ‘benign.’ This creates challenges for communicating clearly with parents – challenges exacerbated by inconsistent messages from screening programs regarding the significance of sickle cell carrier status. Disclosure policy related to incidentally generated infant carrier results needs to account for these complex realities.

organisation: University of Toronto

DOI: 10.1038/ejhg.2009.173

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