There is a huge influx of people doing genetic testing to learn about themselves. MIT estimates 12 million people did genetic testing in 2017 and in the two years since that time, the number has grown exponentially. It is these large pools of people that help the DNA testing companies become more accurate in their testing and finding possible relatives for you. What’s more, people are not only testing themselves but also their pets!
There is a trend in knowing your exact genetic composition. For many years, genetic testing has helped women determine if they have a gene that could lead to female cancers and alter their body to prevent breast cancer. You can do testing before conceiving to see if you are a carrier for certain diseases. There is also genetic testing available while you are pregnant to learn the gender and any abnormalities in your unborn child. There are also companies toting the testing to learn what foods are best for your specific body based on DNA testing. You can even find testing that will tell you exactly what is in the sweet puppy you brought home from the shelter.
However, there are a lot of controversies and pressures about genetic testing in today’s world. As you decide if it is right for you or a loved one, it is essential to ask yourself a few critical questions as you contemplate this decision.
1. What information are you hoping to learn from the testing?
Are you interested in your cultural makeup? How will you feel if you have always identified as being African American, only to learn that you are 50% something else? You may think I am crazy for saying this, but I have seen it happen and it led to that person having a major identity crisis and feeling rejected by her family.
2. What information would you rather not know?
Will your genetic testing reveal family secrets that would be better left in the past? Maybe mom gave a child up for adoption as a teenager and she has never talked about it. Or was dad a sperm donor to pay for college and is embarrassed to admit it? Or, what if your daddy isn’t really your daddy? How will the answers to these questions affect you and your family?
I once knew someone whose daughter did a DNA test and found a sibling who was in her 40’s. Her dad then found out a one night stand before her parents were married led to a baby he never knew about. Imagine if that child was born during your parents’ marriage; it might cause problems you never intended to create.
3. Who has access to this information?
Many companies that offer life insurance policies are now asking for a copy of your DNA testing. This could lead to them not insuring you if they feel you are too high of a risk. There are also some companies that will send your results to the government depending on where you live and the laws surrounding the testing. Can law enforcement gain access to this information? I have asked my attorney friends their thoughts on the matter, and they say it is a waiting game for a subpoena to be worded just right and a judge to grant it.
According to Futurism.com, the three best companies for maintaining your privacy are ancestry.com, 23andme, and Helix for humans while maintaining your four-legged companion’s privacy is Embark. With that said, each of these companies states that they follow the “industry standards” when it comes to your privacy, but it is hard to know exactly what that means. Make sure you read the fine print and are comfortable with how your private information is being handled.
4. When it comes to Toto, what do you hope to learn about him?
Do you want to know what breeds make up that fluffy cuteness? Or are you worried that your dog has a breed that scares you? We recently rescued a chocolate lab mix. Given her white spots and the fact that we know nothing other than she was left in a box on the side of the road in the middle of a hurricane makes me wonder what is in her genetic make-up. Living in Florida, there is a high likelihood that there could be some pit bull in her. I know there are many people who say pit bulls are not dangerous if raised right. However, I have two small children. I believe that having that information could lead me to mistrust her, which is not fair as she is an amazing, sweet, and gentle dog. This big love lets my two-year-old lay on top of her, and she just gives him kisses. What if you find out your puppy has a predisposition to a particular disease at a young age? Will that lead you to constantly worry about him and not enjoy him? Sometimes not knowing the future is not a bad thing.
With this said, many people have gained wonderful positive knowledge in doing DNA testing. They have learned about fun heritages they did not know they had. Some people always thought themselves to be German or Spanish only to discover they have a lot of Italian in them and laugh about it as their reason for loving pasta. Or someone who was adopted and always wanted to know their biological family—it answered those burning questions that were pondered all their life. My sister-in-law learned the genetic makeup of her dog, and she loves seeing the different characteristics of the different breeds. It honestly brought her joy. Other people have learned about their genetics, and it has helped immensely in understanding their medical history.
Genetic testing can be a fun and positive experience. However, it is important that before you jump on the trend wagon, you think about the possible difficult answers that could come with doing the testing. Make sure you ask yourself: are you prepared for the information you did not anticipate? How will you handle these issues if they come to your attention? Will you tell others or keep it to yourself? Will it affect your identity and cause a crisis? Or can you take it in stride and not let it ruin you? As with any big decision in life, it is important that you make an educated decision as to whether having the answers that come with DNA testing is right for you.
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