Bioethics Blogs

This could get Personal

And so 23andMe has launched in the UK.

For those not familiar with it, 23andMe allows individuals to swab themselves and have their genome analysed, at a cost of £125. The company is offering to generate a report covering about a hundred traits, giving information on a range of potentially important to fun things: the list includes tests for the presence or absence of inherited conditions such as Tay-Sachs and Beta Thalassemia; risk factors relating to things like Alzheimer’s; how much DNA you have in common with Neanderthals; and earwax type.

To be honest, I’d’ve thought that by the time you’ve got £125 to spend on a test like this, you’d probably know all you’d ever want to know about your earwax, but… well, apparently there’s more.  Joy.

Anyway: BBC Breakfast invited me to witter on about it the other day.  I only got a couple of minutes, and so didn’t get to say much; shamelessly, I’m going to thing aloud a little bit here.  My basic starting point is that it’s hard to see why the test per se is too big a problem: all else being equal, who would begrudge a person information about himself?  All the same, I think that there are questions that are probably worth asking.  (NB: in what follows, I whenever I mention 23andMe, the point should be taken to cover any company offering a similar service.)  So, in no particular order…

1. Getting the information

One of the obvious points to consider about this service is that there is no way to ensure that people who make use of it will be all that well informed about what genetic information means, and what it means for them.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.