Tuesday, September 23, 2008

23andMe a Good Thing?

I was reading Sergey's blog entry on Parkinsons. I am very sorry to hear that it is afflicting his family and may afflict him. I am hoping that he will be able to help turn the tide against problems like Parkinsons. He found out that he has a predaliction towards Parkinsons by leveraging 23andMe. I took a moment to check out 23andMe and it looks very interesting. I like the idea of a quick swab and being able to tell all kinds of things about your genes. Are you predisposed towards particular things? A few questions came to mind as I was thinking about this though. If you were predisposed to some issues, would you want to know ahead of time. I think that I would, but how much would it come to dominate my life and the life of my family? People are not very good at odds. If you end up with a 5% chance of having a problem, are you going to suffer your whole life waiting for the other shoe to drop?

The possibly more interesting question though, is how long before people start asking about the results of tests like these on insurance forms? Are you predisposed to Parkinsons? What do you answer? If you have not had the test, I think you might be in better shape than having had the test. Would having the test be enough to make you uninsurable? I can easily see premiums being hiked due to genetic predispositions.

We are entering an interesting age where we may know more about our futures than might be good for us. At some point, this will affect the coarse we choose for our lives and the costs of various goods and services. Now might be a great time to try 23andMe and lock in low rates for long term care insurance before they start to ask annoying questions. That being said, I went with AIG life insurance because they were the most stable thing since sliced bread. It is hard to tell who will be doing well in many years...




Travis Swicegood said...

Genetic profiling - for lack of a better term - is a potentially dangerous thing. Taking it a few steps further: at what point to companies only hire people for certain jobs based on their genetic predisposition? How about insurance companies that won't cover pregnancies once genetic tests are run on the parents and/or fetus? What about airlines that won't let someone fly because their genes mean they might be prone to bouts of irrationality?

There are still a lot of questions to be answered and decisions to be made on this front. What will we accept as a society? Given its relative newness, I lean toward banning using genetic as criteria for anything until we spend some time mulling over the issues surrounding it.

Jacob Taylor said...

That was one of the questions I was debating. I am not sure that legislation is the answer. It would not necessarily help, since it does not remove the jeopardy out of the situation. Since the legislation can always be removed at a later date and the data cannot be recalled. I like the idea of anonymous profiling. That might let you see the data without some of the jeopardy, but it is less useful. I would like to link up my entire family to the system, throw in the family tree for good measure, and find out what kind of issues (good and bad) are prevalent and important. 23andMe appears to allow you to do some of this. The problem is, knowing the data puts you a murky area (which your legislation suggestion might help with) and linking a tree of people would provide more and more people that know and/or could be used to link your data back with you personally. Can you imagine large insurance problems automatically causing an automatic subpoena to 23andMe to see if the person lied on any forms? Yes Christopher Reeves, that looks painful and expensive, too bad you no longer have any medical insurance.

Travis Swicegood said...

I lean toward protecting the consumer in this instance. Unfortunately, there is too much of a financial motive for having access to the information for private industry to ignore it.

Of course, if you remove the profit motive (or strictly regulating the amount of profit) from insurance companies anyhow and treat medical care as a right, that's sort of a moot point.

Where do you draw the line in the imperfect (in my opinion) system that we do have? Is it ok for someone who knows they have the genetic markers for a degenerative disease to not disclose that to a life insurance company, but make it illegal for someone who was just diagnosed with cancer to leave that diagnoses off?

There are a lot of questions here and we can argue ourselves in circles. When I find myself in that situation, I want to err on the side of the individual, the consumer, the citizen, rather than the business. I'm a lefty like that though. :-)

Jacob Taylor said...

I responded to this comment in a new blog post.