The newly formed International Society of Psychiatric Genetics (ISPG) Ethics Committee will examine many ethical issues raised by emerging knowledge and technologies.1

“There is a severe lack of guidance about the responsible use of psychiatric genetics in clinical and nonclinical settings,” says Maya Sabatello, LLB, PhD, a committee member and assistant professor of clinical bioethics at Columbia University.

The ISPG Ethics Committee aims to close some of this gap. The group consists of psychiatric genetics researchers, clinicians, bioethicists, lawyers, and others. The overarching goal, says Sabatello, is “to promote the responsible use of psychiatric genetics in society through education and published guidelines.”

Central ethical issues include return of results, social justice, racial diversity, and possible use of psychiatric genetics in nonclinical settings such as courts and schools. “Questions about prediction of genomic risks are likely to increase,” Sabatello says.

To answer these questions, certain ethical issues need to be addressed first, including:

  • how to return such results;
  • whether it is possible to accurately assess risk across racial/ethnic groups;
  • what the implications of risk will be.

Who should be involved in this process also is important. “Ethicists can help by requiring that results are returned by a genetic counselor and that there are supports in place to ensure that those who receive results are not harmed by them,” Sabatello says.


  1. Lázaro-Muñoz G, Sabatello M, Huckins L, et al. International Society of Psychiatric Genetics Ethics Committee: Issues facing us. Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet 2019; May 23. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.b.32736. [Epub ahead of print].