The Problematic Allure of Genetic Tests

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In November the Oprah show introduced millions of viewers to Time magazine’s “Invention of the Year”, the 23andMe DNA test kit. This direct-to-consumer test promises buyers that, with one easy spit into a tube, they can unlock the mysteries of their genetic history by mailing saliva to be matched against 23andMe’s DNA databases. 

DNA tests aren’t the gold standard of accuracy and truth, though, as Sue Friedman, founder of the nonprofit Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowerment (FORCE), illuminates in a special issue of GeneWatch. Potential problems include the invisible hand of biotech companies involved in unregulated marketing of these tests to consumers, as well as the possibility of incorrect interpretation without the benefit of expert analysis. 

Consumers need to understand that a DNA test is not a silver bullet for health forecasting, and the companies that sell these tests need to comprehend the responsibilities inherent in their business. As Friedman states, “people are making real-life, real-moment decisions based on test results.”

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