About Thomas May, PhD

Thomas May, PhD

How genetics can address adoptees’ lack of health history

Research Investigator

Email: tmay@hudsonalpha.org
Phone: (256) 327-9703
Location: 601 Genome Way, Huntsville, AL 35806

Thomas May, PhD, thinks long and often about how people make healthcare decisions. In fact, May has built his career examining how people – especially adoptees – make decisions using genomic information.

As a research faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, May is especially interested in how access to the information contained in an individual’s genome could address adoptees’ lack of health history.

“There’s a health gap for adoptees that we can mitigate,” he said. “For people who are aware of their family medical history, rare but life-threatening diseases can be prevented with early screening. But adoptees often don’t have access to that information, and genetic testing can fill that gap.”

The adoptee issue is only one subject at the intersection of medicine, public health and philosophy where May has found his niche. His broader interest focuses on autonomy in healthcare – a patient’s right to make independent medical care choices. For May, autonomy means providing individuals with all of the relevant considerations, outcomes and justifications they need to make decisions about their own healthcare, including genomic screening.

So even for individuals like adoptees for whom knowledge of their genome could have multiple benefits, May is most interested in ensuring that they can think about the potential risks and benefits of genomic information for themselves.

“We have to think about how a patient makes health care decisions using genomic information in terms of that individual’s self-identity and well-being,” he said. “How will this information impact them? How will it impact their family? It’s important that we consider patient autonomy when we consider rights to genomic information – and rights to genomic ignorance.”