Chances are you’ve encountered the advertising by now: a man is shocked to learn where his ancestors came from, or a woman discovers her predisposition to certain inherited disease. These life-altering revelations, we’re told, are thanks to DNA testing made available directly to consumers.
The process is so simple, the information is so interesting, and the price is so reasonable that it’s no surprise the direct-to-consumer genetic testing kit trend has taken off in recent years. Home DNA test unboxing and usage is a straightforward process involving a few mouth swabs and a smaller box to put them into for shipment to a testing facility. Other kits may involve getting saliva into a small tube, but the overall process and science behind it are the same.
The growing prevalence of genetic testing at home has many benefits for individuals as well as society in general. With that said, as is the case with nearly all forms of scientific discovery and progress, there are some potential downsides attached. The following is a brief outline of the pros and cons of direct-to-consumer genetic testing kits:
Uncovering health risks
PRO: Affordable genetic testing done at home has the potential to alert people to potential health risks they may otherwise not know about. This arms individual with the knowledge necessary to lead healthier lifestyles.
CON: While current laws prohibit the use of genetic information from determining someone’s eligibility for insurance, employment, and similar pursuits, that doesn’t stop personal DNA information from potentially going public. Discrimination based on potential health risks is something we will need to address as a society at some point.
Assisting police investigations
PRO: Police in California made international headlines in 2018 when they used a direct-to-consumer DNA testing kit to uncover the identity of a notorious serial killer living in plain sight. This method for catching the bad guys is a game changer for law enforcement and could help further reduce violent crime rates in decades to come.
CON: The ability for law enforcement to use a DNA database to help identify an unknown individual sounds great until it’s you or someone you love and you or they’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. What’s more, it raises ethical questions going forward, considering this method of criminology can be used to track down individuals who themselves have not opted to take a DNA test but who are related to someone who did, which was the case with the serial killer in California.
Understanding our ancestry
PRO: Many people are interested in finding out more about their ancestors. Home-based DNA testing gives them the chance to learn things they may otherwise never find out about family history and ethnicity. The more people use these services, the more we’ll be able to connect all the dots. This can help strengthen the bonds of individuals with each other, which will, in turn, solidify the foundations of society.
CON: Imagine being raised in a household which was fiercely proud of its Irish heritage. Your father passionately (but playfully) despised the English and never missed a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. You get him a test and his DNA is English – not a drop of Irish blood in him. This sort of revelation has the potential to be mind-blowingly fascinating but it could also hurt your dad’s sense of self-identity. It might be a good time to remind him that St. Patrick was himself a native of Britannia.