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Genetic Testing, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1244

Essay

Genetic testing also known as DNA-based testing involves examining DNA molecules to find possible signs of genetic disorders. The advancements in the field of genetics have rapidly pushed the boundaries of medical science and have made it possible to predict the probability of genetic disorders to occur in the individuals. Thus, the greatest promise of genetic testing is not only in preventive measures but further advancements in genetics are expected to produce techniques that may even be able to repair faulty genes. Currently, there are more than 1000 genetic tests available from the testing laboratories including Alzheimer’s disease, Cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, Sickle cell disease, and Timothy Syndrome.

As with any disruptive technology, the genetic testing raises certain ethical and moral issues. Privacy is one of the major concerns because genetic testing results could be used by insurance companies and other commercial enterprises to decide whether to provide their services or not and may charge more to the customers they perceive as high-risk. In addition, genetic testing is not fool-proof and the misleading results may lead to inaccurate treatments and preventive measures. In addition, the technology is still in infancy and any information that can’t be interpreted with reliability even if it’s accurate is as useless as no information at all. The medical community has no professional standards or guidelines that could be used to analyze the genetic testing results which results in doctors applying inconsistent analytical tools and reaching inconsistent conclusions.

The results of the genetic testing may inflict emotional pain on the individuals even if they are inaccurate. The psychosocial risks may be guilt, anxiety, impaired self-esteem, social stigma, and employment discrimination (American Academy of Pediatrics). There may be financial risks if the customer decides to act on the information and opt for expensive medical treatments in hope of reducing the risks indicated by genetic test. Moreover, genetic information has limited predictive power as our genes interact with the environment in complex ways.

As far as genetic testing in pediatrics is concerned, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends genetic testing only when it is in the best interests of the child and when the legitimate interests of the parent and the family can be promoted without anticipated harm to the child. It has been argued that genetic testing for children should be mandatory because a society has an obligation to promote child welfare through detective and timely treatment of selected conditions. At the same time, parents have a tendency to underestimate the risks involved in treatments on the basis of genetic test which may not promote the best interests of the child (American Academy of Pediatrics).

Emory Law Journal provides an interesting hypothesis on the potential impact of media on consumer choices. American actress Christina Applegate appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show on September 30, 2008 and declared that her decision to remove both of her breasts was based on her genetic test. She remarked, “I’m clear. Absolutely 100 percent clear and clean.” This information could be misinterpreted by the female viewers who have a family history of breast cancer. They may order their genetic test and decide to go the Christina Applegate way. But Christina Applegate’s self-assurance was not exactly correct because double mastectomy significantly decreases the chance of later developing breast cancer but does not guarantee prevention. In addition, direct-to-consumer companies have no obligation to tell customers of the treatment choices available and the customers may underestimate the social and emotional distress that breast removal may cause them later. Direct-to-consumer companies have a potential to mislead customers because even though they issue disclaimer that their results cannot be used to make medical decisions and that the users assume all the risk, their marketing messages send hope and promise of healthy future. Genetic testing companies are avoiding the possibility of legal problems by masking themselves as seller of informational and recreational services (Kishore, 2010).

The pace of regulations to govern the trade practices of the direct-to-consumer companies may have yet to come but the issue has not escaped the attention of the government. United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) tested direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies and found that they made medically unproven claims. In addition, the results from all the four companies whose services GAO purchased yielded results that were inconsistent with each other and the companies didn’t inform of their inability to carry out DNA tests on races prior to the purchase. In addition, the individual companies yielded different test results on the two samples that were actually the same. Some companies even tried to sell supplements that were supposed to repair damaged DNAs. In addition, they used fraudulent endorsements from high profile athletes (Kutz). This shows that genetic testing is still unreliable and a huge risk exists in utilizing genetic tests for making important medical decisions.

There is also a risk that genetic tests may be abused by employers to predict the probability of undesirable behavior in individuals which may or may never happen. For example, if an individual possesses a gene variant which studies link to increase risk of substance abuse such as alcohol and drugs, the employer may decide he doesn’t want to hire a potential future liability (Bailey).

Genetic testing may have limited useful and reliable applications especially in the case of diseases whose genes are few and have been correctly identified. Huntington gene is one example. People with Huntington disease have 36 to more than 120 CAG (Huntington disease is also known as CAG trinucleotide repeat expansion). People with 36 to 40 CAG repeats may or may not develop the signs of Huntington disease but people with more than 40 repeats almost always develop the disorder (Genetics Home Reference).

Genetic testing if proved negative may give false hopes to the customers. Customers may become careless with their life habits and may even forego regular diagnosis tests later in life. Thus, just as positive results may result in over reaction, negative results may lead to carelessness on the part of the customers. Genetic tests point towards a bright future of medical science as further progress is made but it will take some time for genetic testing to become a truly reliable medical service. Even when genetic testing is taken, the importance of medical advice should not be underestimated. Medical professionals are better informed due to their experience and knowledge and are better aware of the various options available to the customers.

Genetic testing may have consequences that extend far beyond the individuals. Genetic testing may persuade couples to opt for abortion or totally forego procreation plans. Some people may object on the basis of their moral values that humans are trying to imitate God which could limit federal funding to fund genetic research and slow down the progress in genetics. This has already happened when President Bill Clinton sent bill to the Congress to outlaw the cloning of humans on the recommendation of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (Human Genome News, 1997).

References

American Academy of Pediatrics. Ethical Issues With Genetic Testing in Pediatrics. 3 February 2011 <http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;107/6/1451>.

Bailey, Ronald. “I’ll Show You My Genome. Will You Show Me Yours?” Reason January 2011: 35-43.

Genetics Home Reference. HTT. October 2008. 3 February 2011 <http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/HTT>.

Human Genome News. President’s Bill Would Prohibit Human Cloning. January-June 1997. 3 February 2011 <http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/publicat/hgn/v8n3/07pres.shtml>.

Kishore, Deepthy. “Test at Your Own Risk: Your Genetic Report Card and the Direct-To-Consumer Duty to Secure Informed Consent.” Emory Law Journal 2010: 1553-1609.

Kutz, Gregory. “Direct-To-Consumer Genetic Tests: Misleading Test Results Are Further Complicated by Deceptive Marketing and Other Questionable Practices.” Investigative. 2010.

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