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Your Take: Would You Get Genetic Testing?

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DNA in Lego BricksMy wife and I once discussed getting genetic testing done to figure out whether our kids would be grow up to become NBA superstars and fund our lavish retirement plans. Anyway, with that plan in mind, I originally planned to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get myself tested by a plethora of different genetic testing companies, but Discover Magazine, with their deep pockets and journalistic pull, beat me to the punch and saved me a bunch of money. (whew!)

Boonsri Dickinson was genetically tested by three different firms (Navigenics, 23andMe, and deCODE genetics) and the results were… eh, anticlimactic. What I learned in Dickinson’s article was that genetic testing was at best still an imperfect science. The data we have on the human genome simply isn’t deep enough to give us a clear and accurate picture of even our own future, let alone the future of the children of couples being tested.

One surprising factoid was the importance of race. I had always heard that there was really no genetic difference between any two races, that individual variance was a bigger deal than racial variances. This was in direct conflict with the analysis methodology for interpreting the DNA testing results. Dickinson is half-European and half-Asian… and her 23andMe results would wildly fluctuate based on how she classified her ancestry.

While I can see the merits of genetic testing, it still sounds like it’s an imperfect science because we simply don’t understand it well enough. We often see media stories about how we’ve discovered the gene for this or that and the reality is that it’s just not that simple. I think genetic testing, for now, with its hefty price tag and inaccurate results, is out of any future plans.

How about you? Ever consider it? Too creepy (Gattaca, anyone?)? Too expensive? See no point to it?

(Photo: mknowles)

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7 Responses to “Your Take: Would You Get Genetic Testing?”

  1. Stacey says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Once we start evaluating people through their genetic code, a world similar to Gattaca isn’t too far behind – a world where designer babies are the norm, and our value is determined by the strength of our DNA.

    As the movie suggested, even future DNA analysis will not be fool-proof. Wasn’t the main character supposed to die of heart failure early in life? They determined this when he was an infant by scanning his genes. But genes only suggest dispositions, not future outcomes.

  2. I don’t think it necessarily leads to a Gattaca world. There are other reasons to get genetically tested. I’m no genetics expert, but I have taken classes and it’s possible for two parents to carry recessive characteristics (they don’t manifest in the parents individually) that when combined would produce a fatal disease or debilitating illness. I can see why parents might want to find out before they begin having children if their kids are going to be faced with severe medical problems. Perhaps they’d want to adopt children instead.

    That being said, as a first time parent-to-be, I don’t want to be genetically tested. Once you’re pregnant, it seems like a waste of time, unless you plan on aborting the child if you find something that you don’t like. Obviously, as a society we don’t (I hope!) want to head down that tragic road.

  3. Jason H says:

    There is certainly an allure to genetic testing. My grandfather died of Lymphoma and my father now has incurable Chronic Lymphatic Lymphoma, which docters believe is hereditary. So I have often considered a genetic test to see if I am indeed going to be heading down the incurable cancer road as I get older and therefore begin saving toward a Chemo-fund.

    Stacey, you are not completely correct. While genes in some cases do suggest dispositions, there are other genes which do create the future outcome and those are the genes that these tests should be focused on.

  4. Re: Differences amongst racial groups… It’s true that the genetic differences between races are very, very subtle. That does not, however, mean that they’re statistically undetectable if you’re willing to throw enough data at the issue. These genetic tests produce so much data that you can detect very minor differences.

  5. Jim says:

    I agree that right now its not worth the cost for the information you get. If the cost, accuracy and privacy are right then I’d consider it. Persionally I think genetic testing has good potential to look for potential for genetic predisposition to certain diseases.

    Jim @Freeby50

  6. Genetic testing will prove to be ever increasingly more useful as time progresses. The ability to determine your odds of developing certain diseases and conditions gives you a great heads up on changing your lifestyle to help prevent or fight them. Nowadays, you can get the most basic tests done for about $1,000.00 although it’s not cheap it’s still 10x less than it was a few years ago. The downside of course is people making intelligent decisions based on the results, living longer and putting the last nail in the coffin of social security. :)

  7. Meg says:

    I’m not sure what you mean by “genetic testing.” It sounds like you are referring to what amounts to a very expensive personality and physical indicator.

    However some genetic testing is very specific and can be very useful, for instance the type wherein you get tested to see if you are likely to pass on a serious or fatal disorder to a child. These specific tests are less expensive and sometimes covered by certain types of insurance, especially if you are at high risk.

    My mother was genetically tested for the “breast cancer gene” after she went in remission from the disease at 45. Her mother, sister, and grandmother had also had breast cancer. She never would have told us (her 4 daughters) that she’d been tested, except for the fact that the test revealed she did NOT in fact have that genetic predisposition.

    Personally, I’d never get tested to see if I had the breast cancer gene. If it was positive, I don’t want to go through life waiting/expecting to have a disease that may never materialize. If it’s negative, I don’t want to be surprised if it does happen. I have a large family history of the disease, and I’m OK with the fact that I have a high probability of contracting it one day. In the meantime I’ll eat as well as I can, stay healthy in all ways, and try to reduce my risk with other lifestyle factors.


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