How do your genes feel about Privacy?


A short, but interesting article in Scientific American (Medicine I can call my own, George Church, Sept 2010, p. 96), informs us that you will soon be able to sequence your genome without the burden of a high cost. The author didn’t mention, however, that anyone else can also sequence your genome for the same price. Sure, it could be covert, but this won’t be the major risk. Have you seen Gattaca? Discrimination laws were passed in that society as well, but that didn’t stop the eligible dating pool from sampling each other’s genome from hair follicles (or rampant discrimination by public and private entities). Prominent politicians and corporate officers will “voluntarily” submit their genomes to the public and shareholders for the good of the country and the company. There will no doubt be a slow creep of “voluntary” genetic testing for certain high pressure positions.

But let’s not be alarmist (okay . . . it was fun to write the above), but the potential for this technology is tremendous. Truly individualized healthcare and prevention. Imagine learning the specific health risks you may face and being able to take preventative measures beginning as a child. Treatment will be tailored to your genetic make up increasing the likelihood of success many times. The technology will be worth the privacy risk without a doubt, but we should begin wrestling with the privacy issues now. The law takes time to catch-up with technology, but with a healthy discussion already started, intelligent measures can be implemented that much more quickly. (I do wonder if breaches of genetic data might persuade the courts to take a more liberal view of the damages requirement that is now taken in identify theft cases. It’s one thing to have your purchases disclosed; it’s another to have your propensity for rectal cancer blowing down the street.)

I recall a Saturday Nigh Live skit where an unfortunate gentleman was subjected to a scathing background check by a prospective date based on his financial transactions. The SNL writers will soon have new material to work with.

On an unrelated note, the September Scientific American issue has several fascinating articles on time, with one in particular of how time may end- essentially, death from old age.

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