Genetic testing turning into unethical industry: Researcher

February 18th, 2009 - 11:14 am ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Feb 18 (IANS) Genetic testing to know risks of hereditary diseases and confirm paternity is fast turning into an unethical and greedy industry, a Canadian researcher has warned.
Medical testing companies are exploiting people to make quick bucks, Montreal University professor Bryn Williams-Jones said Tuesday.

Worse still, he added, these tests provide few answers and raise more questions.

“For $200 to $300, a private company can provide consumers with a genetic profile or a risk assessment for any given disease. At that price a person might as well consult their horoscope,” said Williams-Jones, who is also director of bioethics programmes at the university.

He said though billions of dollars have been spent in human genetics in the last three decades, very few genetic diseases can be identified from organic samples - of inner cheek cells, a hair and a drop of blood.

“For cardiovascular disease and the majority of cancers, the information taken from our cells is insufficient,” he added.

Labelling genetic testing companies as recreational genomics, Williams-Jones said: “One company offers to evaluate the potential risk of 20 or so hereditary diseases. This is completely unreasonable. Given what some people may do with this information, I find these tests a great concern.”

He said this greedy industry was also making inroads into paternity testing, with up to 15 percent of people worldwide doubting the identity of fatherhood of newborns. The increasing practice of paternity testing has thrown up the added ethical problem of identifying sperm donors.

“Some 30 years after the birth of Louise Brown, the first test-tube baby, many people are asking to ID the donor of their biological fathers,” he said.

The right to know one’s biological father has now been given precedence over the right of the donor’s anonymity, he regretted.

“The result is that sperm donations are freefalling,” Williams-Jones said.

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