Two recent developments with respect to mass genetic testing support the idea that we are not done debating how we want to handle such information as a society.
On May 19 the The House Energy and Commerce Committee and its subcommittee on oversight and investigations began efforts to collect information from Navigenics, Pathway Genomics, and 23 and Me regarding the methods, accuracy, and privacy of their tests (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/19/AR2010051903079.html). This follows on the request from the FDA to discuss with Pathway Genomics whether the company needs approval from the Agency to sell its tests at Walgreen’s.
Separately, UC Berkeley recently initiated a program in which the university is offering incoming students the opportunity to submit DNA samples for genotyping at three loci involved in alcohol, lactate, and folate metabolism. This has raised concerns from groups, including the Council for Responsible Genetics, who would prefer to have the testing postponed, at least, until we can better address issues around misuse and privacy of this type of information.
The developments around these two events, the announcement of the imminent sale of OCT genomic tests and the testing of students at a large university, make it pretty clear that, as a society, we are not entirely OK with this type of large scale genetic testing yet. In particular, I think that there is a feeling that we don’t really know what the true risk-benefit relationship is.
As with all situations where information is being revealed, once the cat is out of the bag there is no way to put it back in the bag. I’m sure both of these genomic testing programs would work out just fine, but perhaps in this situation erring on the side of caution is appropriate.