The testing of one’s DNA for future illness is a subject that’s just now coming to a boiling point as a major ethical debate. I’ve written about it here before and suggested that while this type of DNA testing is being touted as benefiting science, it also could be the start of a quasi eugenics program by insurance companies later in weeding out people who may be vulnerable to certain diseases.
There almost seems to be an insidious method to it with insurance companies calling policy-holding customers at times and cajoling them to take a DNA test to help forward science.
It almost makes you wonder then if Google co-founder Sergey Brin regrets taking a DNA test at the time of this writing, only to find out that he has the gene that may give him Parkinson’s disease somewhere down the road.
Undoubtedly Brin decided to take his DNA test to help advance science. And while it can’t be proven that insurance companies would hold the results against you in the coverage you’d get, a lot of people may not want to know if they’re vulnerable to illness anyway just so they can have some kind of peace in the unknown.
It all depends on the individual and whether they feel comfortable in knowing what the future may hold for them in illness.
Of course, a lot of it also depends on your income bracket. For Brin, he’s a multi-billionaire and wouldn’t have to worry about health care costs once he starts getting Parkinson’s.
For most others struggling financially, having that information floating around could be very dangerous in this day and age when getting good health care is already on shaky ground for a healthy person. That’s why having Brin’s DNA test out in the open will hopefully give the public a wake-up call on DNA testing and whether it’s the right choice for them.
But it’s ironic that Brin used a DNA test that he helped champion himself with his wife. Called 23andMe, it’s a biotechnology lab located in California that provides people an opportunity to look into their DNA and see what’s in there, both positively and negatively.
They don’t play up the illness part of it, though, and sell the idea by way of saying you can research your lineage much easier if you take a test through them. They’ve unfortunately received some cease and desists from both California and New York’s Departments of Health in recent years because a person has to get an approval from a doctor in those states before taking a DNA test to determine illness.
Perhaps it’s Brin’s power, but they’ve managed to fight the system and argue that he and his wife’s company still falls under the guidelines of what’s acceptable under state law.
Nevertheless, there’s likely going to be some kind of court battle over it down the road over the definition of whether the company provides a service for researching family trees or if it’s used as an independent medical evaluation. As of now, only a quarter of all our 50 states allow us to take a DNA test without a doctor approval.
Certainly anything created by someone who founded Google will look attractive to people, so you have to wonder now if people will head to 23andMe and start taking DNA tests to understand themselves biologically.
This kind of sales pitch sure beats having an insurance company calling you and asking if you want to participate in DNA testing as a benefit to science as it’s happening now. If people do become enamored of using 23andMe’s services, we’ll hope the company keeps all files private so health insurance companies don’t tap into them.
If they hire spies to gain access to files at this company and others doing the same thing around the country, then we’d be looking at one of the worst types of eugenics programs.
And having Brin’s results become so public should give people a slight pause on running over to take advantage of 23andMe’s offerings…or at least we hope. It could be possible that insurance companies are happy to see these companies make DNA testing look so attractive so it’ll incite more people to do it rather than having a salesman on the phone persuade them.
The more DNA information there is on people out there, the strongest potential for it to be used paradoxically in perhaps finding cures for diseases and subsequently denying some people certain health care benefits just because they’re possibly vulnerable to a certain condition.
What health insurance companies should take into consideration is that even with certain disease-causing genes showing up on these tests, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the disease. It’s already been reported that the gene causing Parkinson’s in Brin frequently doesn’t even manifest itself at all in a person’s life.
It’s too bad then that most health insurance companies will probably take the smallest amount of risk as a major liability in the future against those struggling to pay outrageously high premiums for halfway decent health care…