The Future: Genetic Testing

It still seems like the stuff of science fiction, but for about $200 you can explore your own DNA through genetic testing.

One company, 23andMe (named for the 23 pairs of chromosomes in the nucleus of most cells) provides you with reports on more than 100 health conditions and traits, data about inherited risk factors, and how you might respond to certain medications, as well as information on your ancestral lineage.

While the company promises to tell you about traits such as male pattern baldness and lactose intolerance, it acknowledges life insurance companies or employers might ask for your genetic information, or whether you have had a test.51SNd6mD5QL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association code for member companies says while insurers will not ask that tests be done, they may request that existing genetic test results be made available to the insurer for the purposes of classifying risk. The association maintains that an insurance contract is a “good faith” agreement and that both the applicant and insurer have an obligation to disclose any information that may be relevant.

The federal privacy commissioner has urged the industry association to go further and refrain from requesting access to existing genetic test results “until such time as they can be shown to be demonstrably necessary and effective.” For the vast majority of genetic tests, the ability to predict health and life outcomes with any reasonable degree of certainty was still relatively low, the watchdog said.

The commissioner has supported proposed legislation to prohibit any person from requiring an individual to undergo a genetic test or disclose the results of a genetic test as a condition of providing goods or services to, or entering into a contract with, the individual. As of mid-2016, the latest version of the bill was making its way through Parliament.

In the United States, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prohibits a health insurer from requiring a genetic test or denying benefits as a result of a pre-existing condition stemming from a genetic test result.

From Your Right to Privacy by Kim Bronskill and David McKie, Self-Counsel Press, May 2016. You can order the book from the above link, or from better bookstores throughout North America.

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