Encountering genes: postwar genetic counselling in the UK and Ireland


  • Dr Jenny Bangham

    Queen Mary University of London

Project summary

Genetic counsellors are medical professionals who help parents and patients interpret the results of genetic tests. Genetic testing is routine in pregnancy and paediatrics and is becoming common during cancer treatment, used by cardiologists, neurologists and surgeons. The results of these tests have the potential to provoke intense feelings such as guilt, fear, confusion, as well as relief and joy, and can have a powerful effect on families and communities. Genetic counselling can be pivotal to the way people experience genetic medicine. In the UK and Ireland, genetic counselling has a 70-year history that has been dramatically shaped by ethical and legal debates about reproductive technologies, disability rights, and changing views on 'race'. 

I will examine the history of genetic counselling to trace how genetics has been experienced, communicated and given meaning. In telling this history, my project will chart the social and emotional postwar history of genetic medicine.