Gattaca, the 1997 science fiction film based in the “not-too-distant future” featuring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman was one of my favorite films ever since I had seen it days before summer vacation in my high school biology class.
The film shows viewers a fictional future in which babies’ genes can be chosen before birth for parents with the means to pay for it. Vincent Freeman is the protagonist of the story. He’s one of the unlucky ones to have had parents who didn’t want to consult their local geneticist to cherry pick his features and characters. Vincent is born into the world with suffering from myopia, potential heart troubles and other characteristics that classified him as a lower class human being in comparison to the privileged humans whose features were carefully selected and flaws removed.
“I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science,” explains Vincent.
When 23andme came out with its DNA genotyping services in 2007, I was wary and slightly critical. With the cautionary tale of dystopia as created in Gattaca still part of mind – plus a prohibitively hefty subscription-based fee of $299 per period, getting my DNA genotyped by 23andme, the privately owned biotechnology company owned in part by Google’s Sergey Brin’s wife didn’t seem like a great idea. December’s price drop to an apparently permanent level of $99 prompted me to reconsider and perform a bit of research.
After doing some research, I’m convinced that I can and should get my DNA genotyped with 23andme.com for the following reasons:
– Privacy is maintained. 23andme has taken measures to make sure order information and genetic information are kept separate.
– Legislation in place. 2008’s Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 makes it illegal for Americans to discriminate based on genetic information within healthcare and employment – which will need to be further tested as time goes on, but the preventative legislation in place ensures that some kind of guardrails are in place against genetic discrimination.
– Benefit the greater good. As this Forbes article mentions, the secrets of human genetic DNA will be based on the number of people who participate. More participants in 23andme’s system will allow for crowdsourced genetic information, meaning the more people participate, the more meaningful the rest of the individuals with DNA genotyped by 23andme will be.
With an easy sample collection procedure, the next step I will need to take is sending the company a test tube full of saliva.
Far from worrying about having my future spoiled for me or genetic discrimination, I see genotyping as an opportunity to strategize about what kind of life choices I can modify in order to maintain optimal health. Additionally, my view is that 23andme can provide insights that could arise from the DNA genotyping (as 23andme provides probabilities and likelihood metrics at the individual level for over 240 health conditions and traits). These insights would allow me to take precautions and be cognizant of future pitfalls that I might otherwise be unaware of as an individual who sometimes takes her health for granted given a relatively disease and accident-free past.
Getting my DNA genotyped is about being an empowered healthcare consumer, getting a step closer to better managing my own health and healthcare records.