Huntington Disease: The Complexities of Making and Disclosing a Clinical Diagnosis After Premanifest Genetic Testing
The management of patients and families affected by Huntington disease (HD) is complicated by several factors, both practical and ethical. It can be difficult to determine the onset of clinically manifest HD (mHD). In addition, it can be challenging to decide when to disclose the diagnosis to the affected individual. Firstly, the features of HD, an incurable, inherited, neurocognitive disorder that often manifests in young adulthood, influence how the person presents and accepts a diagnosis. Secondly, a positive genetic test for HD may result in a genetic diagnosis, sometimes years before the development of clinical features and the diagnosis of mHD. Thirdly, observational studies of unaffected gene expansion carriers documented HD manifestations up to 10 years before the typical presentation for diagnosis. These developments may permit earlier genetic diagnosis and information regarding the patient’s likely status with respect to the development of clinical disease. Making the genetic diagnosis of HD and providing information regarding disease status, earlier rather than later, respects the person’s right to know and preserves honesty in the doctor/patient relationship. Conversely, delaying the diagnosis respects the right not to know, avoids potential discrimination, and permits the person to live a “normal” life for longer, in the context of a disease without cure. This discussion has implications for other inherited and neurocognitive disorders.