The changing profile of couples seeking genetic counselling for consanguinity in Australia
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Science
Consanguineous marriage is rare in most Western countries and, for example, in the USA it may be subject to regulation by both civil legislation and religious proscription. This is not the case in many regions of Asia and Africa where marriage within the family is strongly favored. Since the 1970s there has been widespread migration to North America, Western Europe, and Australasia from communities which encourage consanguineous marriage. To assess the effect of this trend on a genetic counseling program, the records of 302 couples referred to Genetic Services of Western Australia for consanguinity counseling were abstracted for the period 1975–2001. Overall, a family history of genetic disease or a previously affected child was reported in 28.8% of cases. Premarital or prepregnancy counseling on grounds of consanguinity was sought by 41.0% of couples, and a further 18.2% of consanguineous couples had been referred because of a consanguineous pregnancy. In 7.6% of cases a relationship closer than first cousin was involved. Through time there was a significant increase in the numbers of consanguineous consultands, and their patterns of religious affiliation and ethnic origin widened markedly. Although effectively excluded from entry to Australia prior to 1975, couples of Asian origin accounted for 25.5% of all consanguineous consultands. With ongoing migration, changes in the ethnic profiles and the specific counseling requirements of consanguineous couples can be expected to continue and probably accelerate.