Maybe it’s the fictional writer inside me but every time I see a commercial about submitting DNA to discover your genetic origins I cringe. I understand why a pie chart with percentages of the genetics making up whom you are is compelling. However, what bothers me is what happens afterward. So, I did some research, which only added to my cringe-worthy concern.
AncestryDNA is the latest service for testing DNA in the world and is owned by ancestry.com a family history website. They’re responsible for the commercials where a man describes being raised practicing German traditions only to discover he was mostly Irish; “So, I traded my Lederhosen for a Kilt.” It’s funny. It’s human nature to think we’re one thing when we really aren’t. So for a sale price of $79, you too, can spit on a Q-tip and get your own genetic profile! What’s wrong with that? Well, for starters, what happens to the Q-tip?
According to http://www.thinkprogress.org, a lot of things are wrong with this. The writer of an article for the site, Joel Winston, contends that people who give up a DNA sample may be giving up a lot more than they thought. Winston urges the donor to read the fine print of its Terms and Conditions before you agree to them. When one clicks Agree, one is giving consent to AncestryDNA to own your DNA and doing whatever it wants to do with it forever. So what? Who cares? You should.
In 1951 an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer at the John Hopkins Hospital. Without her family’s permission, doctors and clinicians took her cancer cells, mixed them with plasma and grew them in a lab. These are called HeLa cells, and they have been instrumental in developing vaccines, progress towards in vitro fertilization, and medical treatments for hundreds of millions of people. Fantastic, right? Yes and no.
Although the Lacks family found out about HeLa cells twenty years after Henrietta’s death, they weren’t given any kind of restitution for them. While doctors and pharmaceutical companies grew rich, Lacks is buried in an unmarked grave because her family couldn’t ever afford a headstone for her.
Another issue is that the data gained isn’t for your eyes only. DNA testing looks at 700,000 genetic markers that give information about not only your genetic origins but also any of your genetic health conditions. With that little spit-swab, technicians can see if you carry a genetic abnormality, or disease that may be passed on to your offspring like cystic fibrosis or down syndrome or ones that haven’t even surfaced yet such as breast cancer or Alzheimer’s (can you imagine if Germany had this kind of information in the 1940’s?) Still, it’s good to be forewarned, right? Not always.
Today’s concern is that insurance companies armed with your genetic profile can refuse you coverage. Law enforcement can use it to identify you and your relatives for investigations or employers could use it to deny hiring you.
What happens if some unknown relative gets a genetic profile done and gets an alert for carrying a particular disease, he or she can be traced to you, giving the insurance company, law enforcement, and employers reason to panic about you.—and don’t go crying about your medical information being protected by HIPAA, either!
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 aka HIPAA can’t protect you. DNA testing through any place other than health providers or insurers etc. doesn’t fall under HIPAA. So, AncestryDNA can sell your DNA to whomever for whatever and there isn’t very much you can do about it. Even if you didn’t agree to the terms, but a relative of yours did, you still can’t do much about it.
There are a lot of uses for DNA other than discovering which side of the pond you are (mostly) from; there are many practical uses for it, too, such as cloning.
Cloning is the copying of a gene resulting in a slew of ingenious uses from developing pest resistant plants to medical treatments, which sounds like a worthy cause for your own DNA to be used for—but what if it isn’t?
The Sci-fi writer inside me worries about this. I think about the issue of carrying capacity, the idea that earth is overpopulated and a disaster is overdue, and if the conditions of the world get so bad that only those who can pay to have genetically altered food or can buy medicines will live, while everyone else will die. I’m not too far off! Remember the EpiPen price jump in 2016, where life-saving shots to stop anaphylactic shock had a price increase of between 400 and 600%? At the same time, opioid antidotes also shot up in price 600%.
Another concern I have with giving up DNA is Biometrics. Biometrics is a way for automated identification by a certain physical characteristic. Think, iris scans in an overly secured building in an action thriller. Think, fingerprints scan or even hand geometry. One iris, one print of a pointer finger, and only one per person allowed to go inside said overly secured building in an action thriller seems pretty safe. I mean aside from removing someone’s iris or pointer finger, no one would be able to penetrate the building, right? Wrong! Two words; Stem Cells.
As recently as last year, Japanese scientists grew an adult human ear on the back of a living rat. They took a specific type of stem cell and placed it into some ear cartilage. Those cells were then put into a tube molded in the shape of a human’s ear and then implanted the mold under the skin of a rat. It remained there, topside, for about two months and grew up to two inches long. If someone can grow a human ear on a rat’s backside, couldn’t someone grow an iris or the tip of a finger, too? Maybe even your iris or your fingertip?
I know I sound like a raving lunatic-conspiracy nut, but it’s only fiction if a fact hasn’t been discovered, yet. Here’s my conclusion, you must accept that you are probably a mixture of everyone and of everything, so why prove it? It’s okay to keep the Lederhosen and wear it under your kilt! Consider that it’s also okay to keep your spit in your mouth!