Earlier this month, the Sunday Times published an op-ed piece by Camilla Long critiquing the practice and business of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing ("When DNA means do not ask"). It is Long's right, of course, to express her opinions, but the article is peppered with factual inaccuracies and exaggerations that demand correction.
While it is regretful that Long herself chooses to remain willfully ignorant of her own genetic information, she is within her rights to do so. However, her attempt to impose that ignorance on her readers - by failing to accurately represent the challenges, as well as the potential, of personal genomics, and by demeaning those who choose to learn what they can from their own genome - is misguided.
Whether Long is prepared for it or not, the age of personal genomics is upon us. That does not mean that every individual will - or should - embrace personal genomics today. However, as technology and scientific understanding improve, genetic information, including genetic risk prediction, will become an increasingly routine part of our lives and our medical care. Sooner or later, growing numbers of us will be faced with the challenge of making sense of genetic probabilities, with implications both for our own health and that of our children.
I hope to find time to write more on this myself soon, as the issue of making sense of one's genetic information, complicated as it is already, is not going to get simpler as more of it becomes more cheaply and quickly available.
In all of this concern about ignorance, the fly in the ointment is the insurance companies. If you have the genetic tests done and they show that you have a predisposition (or a suspicion of a predisposition) then you are not insured, under their rules of disclosure. Simple as that, which is why they are starting to offer free genetic testing. Never look a gift horse in the mouth? I don't think so!