Schizophrenia’s ‘genetic test’ – patients who may be hearing voices might be lied to

An elite band of doctors has now come up with a solution to their recurrent occupational hazard. They say a genetic test for schizophrenia should be made available on the NHS. “It can help people understand that they have an illness like any other, just like epilepsy or diabetes, and may also mean that they and their families are more comfortable with the idea of them taking medication,” Professor Kam Bhui explained in the respected British Journal of Psychiatry.

Professor Bhui edits the journal, published on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and has long been an influential commentator. His latest suggestion has already been backed by his Queen Mary University colleagues Professor David Curtis and Dr Katherine Adlington. They say the NHS should make the test available “as a matter of urgency.”

There is just one small ethical problem. Schizophrenia has never been shown to be caused by genetics, either wholly or in part. The trio of psychiatrists appear comfortable in advocating that this moral inconvenience should not stand in the way of it being held up as an explainer to patients and families. “We can do a simple genetic test on a patient and, for example, tell them that they have a small piece of chromosome 22 missing and that this is probably the reason why they’ve developed schizophrenia,” Professor Curtis has excitedly argued.

This particular chromosome correlation has been observed in just one percent of patients with schizophrenia, and those without schizophrenia have also been seen to exhibit it, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has told Mental Health Today. Schizophrenia can not currently be genetically explained in the same way as, say, Down’s Syndrome can (where children are born with a third copy of chromosome 21).

If genetic testing becomes routine on all patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, then perhaps in time a commonality will be discovered. If patients are being given a false reason for taking a (currently hollow) test, does the end justify the means?

Let’s start by making a comparison with Down’s Syndrome once again. Since diagnostic testing has become more reliable and less invasive for pregnant mothers, abortions have increased. Parents should not be denied their reproductive rights of course, but campaigners living with the condition have expressed their fears at where that statistical trend will end up, or how such knowledge could be abused by eugenicists.

Just this month Japan agreed to pay compensation to thousands of individuals with mental health conditions, intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities who were sterilised over five decades until 1996. 25,000 people were sterilised under the so-called Eugenics Protection Law. Almost half gave their consent to the procedure.

Professor Peter Kinderman, a clinical psychologist, is dismayed at psychiatry’s latest approach to confronting conversations about schizophrenia. “Biological explanations of mental illness appear to offer people the suggestion that they are not to blame for their difficulties. But in truth the history of both psychology and psychiatry is littered with the debris of eugenics, where biological and genetic explanations are used as justification for harsh, discriminatory, and sometimes even lethal treatment,” he says. “Even if we did have a genetic test for so-called schizophrenia, we should be extremely reluctant to roll out its use. But in truth the notion is scientific fantasy anyway.”

Full story: Mental Health Today

Author: Philip Challinor
Posted on: 27th March 2019