When a patient refuses to inform relatives of their risk for genetic disease, the genetic healthcare professional is faced with conflicting ethical obligations. On one side of the issue is the obligation to respect and protect patients’ right to privacy. On the other side is the obligation to prevent harm and promote the welfare of the family members, which suggests a responsibility to warn at-risk relatives, even without the patient’s consent. In an effort to examine the actual clinical impact of this issue, we conducted a pilot study that explored genetic counselors’ experience with this conflict. A survey was developed and made available to members of the National Society of Genetic Counselors. Questions were either multiple-choice responses or open-ended. Almost half of respondents (119/259; 46%) had had a patient refuse to notify an at-risk relative. The most commonly cited reasons for refusal were estranged family relationships, altering family dynamics, insurance discrimination, and employment discrimination, respectively. Of these 119 counselors, 24 (21%) reported that they seriously considered warning the at-risk relatives without patient consent, and one actually did disclose. Three factors consistently made the counselors less likely to disclose: their patient’s potential emotional reaction, the relationship between the relative and patient, and the chance that the relative could be aware of the disease by another means. These results suggest that while the conflict is often encountered in clinical practice, it is rare that the situation remains unresolved to the extent that genetic counselors actually consider warning at-risk relatives. However, when the situation was encountered, the counselors in this study reported a lower rate of disclosure without consent than would have been anticipated based on previous studies that used hypothetical situations. It may be that counselors do not recognize a duty to warn at-risk relatives as integral to their role and professional obligations. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.