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A Novel Duty of Care by Geneticists to Provide Information: ABC v St. George’s Healthcare NHS Trust and Others [2017] EWCA Civ 336 - Lawrence Caun, Lamb Chambers

15/08/17. The Court of Appeal in this case realized that it might be creating a novel duty of care in deciding that it is arguable that geneticists could be liable for a failure to provide information to a claimant (“C”) about her father’s diagnosis of Huntington’s disease. The Court reversed the striking out of a claim by Nicol J. [(2015] EWHC 1394)

Huntington’s disease is incurable and a child has a 50% chance of inheriting it from a parent. The disease inflicts brain cell damage causing inevitable cognitive, motor and behavioural deterioration and personality change.

The tragic history was that C’s father killed her mother in 2007, afterwards being detained under a Hospital Order. He was diagnosed with Huntington’s in 2009. A multidisciplinary case conference on 2nd September 2009 had considered whether to override his patient confidentiality by disclosing his condition to C, taking account of his wish not to reveal the information to her so as not to cause her additional distress. They decided not to disclose the information. On that same day, C had revealed that she was pregnant. She accidentally discovered the information about her father’s condition in August 2010, five months after giving birth to a daughter. Tests subsequently revealed that she too has the Huntington’s gene. She claimed that she would have terminated the pregnancy if she had received that information in September 2009.

The decision identified the...

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