Publication Date



Lynch syndrome, medical genetics, postmortem disclosure, family communication, bioethics


Purpose: Genetic information has health implications for patients and their biological relatives. Death of a patient before sharing a genetic diagnosis with at-risk relatives is a missed opportunity to provide important information that could guide interventions to minimize cancer-related morbidity and mortality in relatives.

Methods: We performed semi-structured interviews with individuals diagnosed with Lynch syndrome at 1 of 4 health systems to explore their perspectives on whether health systems should share genetic risk information with relatives following a patient’s death. An inductive, open-coding approach was used to analyze audio-recorded content, with software-generated code reports undergoing iterative comparative analysis by a qualitative research team to identify broad themes and representative participant quotes.

Results: Among 23 participating interviewees, 19 supported health systems informing relatives about their Lynch syndrome risk while the remaining 4 were conflicted about patient privacy. Most (n = 22) wanted their Lynch syndrome diagnosis shared with relatives if they were unable to share and to be informed of their own risk if a diagnosed relative was unable to share. The most common issues noted regarding information-sharing with relatives included patient privacy and privacy laws (n = 8), potential anxiety (n = 5), and lack of contact information for relatives (n = 3). Interviewee perspectives on how health systems could communicate genetic findings generated a consensus: When — a few months after but within a year of the patient’s death; How — explanatory letter and follow-up phone call; and Who — a knowledgeable professional.

Conclusions: Interviews demonstrated strong and consistent perspectives from individuals diagnosed with Lynch syndrome that health systems have a role and responsibility to inform relatives of genetic findings following a patient’s death.




January 14th, 2022


April 20th, 2022


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