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Private genetic industry should be controlled

8th July 2009

Dr Ainsley Newson, senior lecturer in biomedical ethics at the University of Bristol, argues that consumers need protecting from gene tests.

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In 2000, President Bill Clinton described the first genome sequence as the “most wondrous map” ever produced.

Now, less than 10 years later and for less than £250, we may soon be able to obtain our own genome sequence to estimate risk of developing certain diseases.

Next is our DNA sequence on a memory stick which could offer predictions on our future health susceptibility to disease to give us better control of our health.

However, because we do not know how all human genes interact with our environment it remains limited and consequently the vast amount of information will have little meaning without professional interpretation.

There are also ethical issues over whether third parties should have access to this data or whether children should be tested.

One question is whether this testing should be available direct to consumers, or through a doctor.

I support people's rights to their own genetic information, should they want it.

But it is wrong to label this information as “recreational” as there is evidence that consumers do not see it that way, and also, personal genomics could prove an expensive way to be told to eat more greens or do more exercise.

Testing should be offered with pre-test counselling and clinical support. While people should have access to information that can influence their health care, professional clinical interpretation should be provided with the test.

This is not paternalism but responsible consumer protection.

 

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