DIY DNA Tests: Good or Bad?

Arthur Caplan, PhD, director of Penn's Center for Bioethics, weighs in

Jenna Bergen

Walgreens was set to debut over-the-counter, do-it-yourself DNA test kits in its stores this Friday, but has put them on hold due to concerns raised by the FDA. For as little as $249, you would have been able to discover if you carry the gene for 23 major diseases, including breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.

But do I really want to know if I’m going to have to deal with a major disease down the road? I work out, eat well, and do my best to stay healthy—so what would change if I found out that one day I might wind up with Alzheimer’s? Other than being totally depressed and freaked out anytime I forget where I put my keys?

“It is utterly unethical to sell this kind of test kit at the corner drug store,” says Arthur Caplan, PhD, director of Penn’s bioethics. “Maybe someday, but it’s certainly not ready for today. Home kits aren’t accurate, and they give a false sense of security if you do not test positive for a gene since many diseases like lung cancer are strongly linked to lifestyle . And you also need in-person counseling to explain test results, and right now there is no requirement that competent counseling be available to answer questions about the probabilistic information you will get back.”

Though they’ve been delayed, Walgreen’s insists that it’s the consumer’s choice and that they should have the option to purchase the tests if they want to. So although we don’t have the option to go out this weekend and swipe our saliva onto the tiny test strip of knowledge, it still raises on very good question: If you could unravel the mystery of what your genes hold for you — especially if the option dangled above your head every time you went in to pick up a toothbrush or any other sundry you might find in a pharmacy — would you?