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An Excellent Genetics Resource

Posted 9/27/2014

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  I am so appreciative when you send me ideas for this blog--especially when those suggestions introduce me to someone or something new. In this case, thanks to Claire for  telling me about Ricki Lewis and her most recent blog about Genetic Testing for All: Is it Eugenics?

  You likely are aware of ther recent discussion about exending some kinds of genetic testing to the whole, or much of, the general population. For the purposes of this blog, the relevant issue is offering genetic testing re the BRCA mutations to everyone, not only to people of certain ethnic groups or who carry a powerful family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer. As it stands now, I suspect that anyone could request the testing (it is a blood test), but insurance won't cover it unless the individual meets certain criteria per above.

  Rikki Lewis extends this conversation to the next level with the question of eugencis being part of the motivation for broader testing. That is indeed a horrifying idea! In case you don't read any further, she does not support that possibility, but it had not even occured to me. I do live in a fairly naive world much of the time.

  Here is the start of her excellent essay and a link to read more. If you are interested in genetics, bookmark her site as there is much to read.

Genetic Linkage
Genetic Testing For All: Is It Eugenics?


In recent weeks, there’s been talk of three types of genetic testing transitioning from targeted populations to the general public: carrier screens for recessive diseases, tests for BRCA cancers, and non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) to spot extra chromosomes in fetuses from DNA in the maternal bloodstream.

Are these efforts the leading edge of a new eugenics movement? It might appear that way, but I think not.

When I began providing genetic counseling 30 years ago at CareNet, a large ob/gyn practice in Schenectady, NY, few patients were candidates for testing: pregnant women of “advanced maternal age” (35+), someone with a family history of a single-gene disorder or whose ethnic background was associated with higher prevalence of a specific inherited disease. Their risks justified the cost and potential dangers of the tests.

Now the picture is rapidly changing as plummeting DNA sequencing costs and improved technologies are removing economics from the equation. It’s becoming feasible to test anyone for anything – a move towards “pan-ethnic” genetic screening that counters the “sickle-cell-is-for-blacks and cystic-fibrosis-is-for-whites” mindset.


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