How many of you would take a blood test to learn exactly how long you will live? How about whether or not you will become demented? Since the Human Genome Project ended, the genes and mutations associated with a vast array of diseases are being discovered daily and it is pretty easy to just put them on “chip” and make them available to the public.
Don’t get me wrong; gene testing already has already improved our lives. Such tests can clarify a diagnosis and better direct care, while others allow families to avoid having children with life-threatening or disabling conditions. They can be used to prevent disease before it happens, as with monitoring and removal of colon growths among those who have a gene for familial polyposis, and can diagnose common iron-storage diseases early enough to treat them and prevent them from becoming fatal. They can also help to positively identify murderers two decades after the crime.
One real problem is that many commercialized gene tests are targeted to healthy people who might be at high risk because of a strong family medical history for a disorder. Unfortunately, because of how complex we are as biological organisms, the tests give only a “probability” for developing the disorder. That means that some people who carry a mutation may never develop the disease. Another limitation is the possibility of laboratory errors. What this means is that the tests are not perfect and could be wrong.
And what happens to your job prospects and health (or life) insurance rates when it is learned through genetic testing that you might develop a significant disease? Well…nothing. Because of the federal GINA Law (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) passed in May 2008, insurance companies and employers cannot discriminate on the basis of information derived from genetic tests. So, genetics has now been added to the list of characteristics first embodied by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that states that U.S. employers cannot discriminate according to race, color, national origin, sex, or religion. And this is good.
So, go ahead and take the “23 and Me” “DeCode” or “Navigenics” genomic screens if you so desire. Get to know your DNA barcode. Maybe you will get an idea of what may be around the corner for you. And maybe, just maybe, you will take better care of yourself knowing more about your genes. Just understand that many in the medical community feel that uncertainties surrounding test results, the current lack of available treatment options, the tests’ potential for provoking anxiety and social stigmatization could outweigh the benefits of testing. You know the saying: “Too much information…”