Saturday, May 15, 2010

Over-the-counter DNA tests

Here is a summary of my column of Thursday May 13 on Radio Ville-Marie (91.3 FM in Montreal) for those who have missed it.

Tuesday May 11, Pathway Genomics announced its intention of selling an over-the-counter DNA test in 6000 Walgreen stores in the United States. Two days later, Walgreen announced the cancellation of this agreement following an intervention by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), the US organization «responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation ».

I welcome the FDA’s and Walgreen’s decision, because immoderate use of such tests by an uninformed public could lead to serious abuses. First and foremost, we can think of the dangers associated with the interpretation of results, which can easily lead to anxiety or distress, or on the contrary falsely reassure a person while a severe illness is underlying. Also think about the dangers of discrimination against people identified as being at risk of contracting certain diseases (cancer, Alzheimer's ...) when they apply for a job or want to buy life insurance.

Finally, think about all the swindlers who inevitably arise to take advantage of people’s disarray when a test revealed the possibility of contracting a serious disease. «Your genes indicate that you are in danger of contracting breast, or prostate, cancer? Don’t worry, our researchers have discovered an elixir that will decrease your risk! Available in all good pharmacies and online ». It would be the resurgence of a form of advertising as rowdy as misleading intended to exploit people's worries. Many have without doubt already envisioned the possibility of making profits totalling billions.

Let professionals advise us about our health and keep in mind this reasoning: if a disease is incurable anyway, perhaps you are better off not knowing that you have a 54% probability of getting it.

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