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$999 For a Complete DNA Scan, Worth it? 451

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the something-to-think-about dept.
DoroSurfer writes "ZDNet is reporting that 23andme.com will open its doors on Monday, allowing you to send them a cheek swab and have your DNA analyzed for $999 (plus shipping, of course... ;)). So what's a thousand bucks buy you? They can tell you your ancient ancestry, They can tell you what diseases you're predisposed to, They give you a "Gene Explorer" that allows you to do a search in your genome to find out if you have a certain gene (e.g., you just heard on the news that Gene XYZ has been linked to Alzheimer's Disease)."
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$999 For a Complete DNA Scan, Worth it?

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  • by suso (153703) * on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:03PM (#21561143) Homepage Journal
    Looks like someone hasn't watched Gattaca [imdb.com].

    They may have a nice privacy statement, but that doesn't mean any thing if they aren't really enforcing it. Who knows?
  • Gattaca, anyone? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Abreu (173023) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:04PM (#21561161)
    Hopefully this wont become mandatory for job applications, like credit reports are in some cases...
  • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:09PM (#21561239)
    For rich hypocondriacs. More seriously, I wonder what the implications are for the insurance, medical and even dating industries.
  • by The Angry Mick (632931) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:11PM (#21561257) Homepage

    A nice call from your insurance company informing you that they are dropping your coverage due to a genetic predisposition for X disease.

  • Re:No! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gulthek (12570) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:11PM (#21561265) Homepage Journal
    So, for you, information about potential problems leads to worry. Interesting. Would it not help to plan for the worst and live for the best?
  • Re:No! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Loether (769074) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:15PM (#21561307) Homepage
    I have a grandfather with Alzheimer's disease, a disease which if treated early can be very effectively treated extending your life and more importantly to me improving the *quality* of life. This disease begins with no symptoms and progresses slowly going possibly untreated for years. I for one would like the head start.
  • by TimeTraveler1884 (832874) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:15PM (#21561313)

    They may have a nice privacy statement, but that doesn't mean any thing if they aren't really enforcing it. Who knows?
    So why bother disclosing your real information? I don't know what the payment methods will be, but signup under an alias and them mail them an untraceable money order. They may have your exact genetic makeup, but if they don't know who you are, your DNA might as well be anonymous itself.

    Taking it a bit further, it seems like a good way of dealing with privacy in this area is to hide things in plain sight. Make everyone's data available but assign a unique ID that only the submitter will know. Then you can browse your DNA and everyone else's but no one will know who any of it belongs to.

    I know, I know. You could probably just data-mine the DNA itself to figure out individual identities. In the future, if you ever go to another site and put it a few genes (for whatever purpose) that get linked to your real identity, you will be screwed. But hey, how's that any different than data mining Netflix?
  • by Frosty Piss (770223) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:16PM (#21561321)

    They may have a nice privacy statement, but that doesn't mean any thing if they aren't really enforcing it. Who knows?
    Wouldn't they fall under HIPAA [wikipedia.org] since this involves medical testing and records?
  • by kebes (861706) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:19PM (#21561373) Journal

    For rich hypocondriacs.
    Indeed. And therein lies a significant danger.

    For instance, high-resolution full-body scans [wikipedia.org] (a CT scan of every inch of your body) are frequently criticized because they are so accurate and exhaustive that they will nearly always find something. Even a perfectly healthy individual will have a variety of benign masses of tissues which will show up on CT. Some experts have even estimated that a full-body scan will statistically reduce your health (or chance of survival or whatever) since it increases your risk due to unnecessary secondary tests more than it reduces your risk due to early detection.

    Yet many (overly rich?) people want full-body scans because they want to make sure that any possible disease is caught... not realizing that you expose yourself to risk with each medical test.

    I worry this kind of gene-sequencing will do the same thing: many people will see their results, not properly interpret the risks, and go rushing out for secondary tests (some of which have a small danger associated with them). Worse, some people may read their results and change their lifestyle without medical consultation, in order to "manage" a condition that they have not actually expressed yet. (And, again, you can do more harm than good when you try to manage a condition you don't have, at the expense of doing things that would actually make you more healthy.)

    Obviously it's a personal choice if you want to gather this extra information about yourself. I just hope that the companies offering this service make the risks clear and help the customers actually understand the data and probabilities.
  • by moore.dustin (942289) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:21PM (#21561417) Homepage
    While privacy is an issue, I think this sort of thing could an invaluable tool to know more about yourself. Some may want to not know about what they are predisposed to, but I have a hard time understanding why. Sure, you may be hit with something life changing, but those are things I want to know - the sooner the better too. Think of it this way, before you buy are car you should look into its safety, reliability, etc etc. - you look into the investment to know what you are getting into. The same can be said for the DNA decoding - you should know what kind of body you are walking around town with so you can accommodate for any shortcomings nature bestowed upon you.

    You can claim ignorance is bliss, but seeking to be willfully ignorant of a subject is the height of irresponsibility.

    On the question of whether or not it is worth it for $1000... well I think so. Look at things in the long run - you'll have in inside track on those insurance companies.
  • Re:No! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by darthflo (1095225) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:21PM (#21561421)
    Ignorance is bliss. On the other hand, knowing that you are endangered of e.g. Parkinson's might be enough motivation to do something about it and maybe, just maybe, doing something about it might decrease the chances of actually suffering of the disease.
  • by thealpha (308746) * on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:28PM (#21561511)
    Having been previously misdiagnosed with Leukemia and acting on that diagnoses for almost a year, I can tell you that being told that I'm predisposed to something would make every day difficult and worrisome. Shoudl I eat that? Why do I have a headache? My feet are hot, is that a sign?

    I would rather have it surprise me and then live every day for what it's worth. Else you might think you sick and run up a bunch of bills you can't pay when you find out you're fine.
  • by GryMor (88799) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:34PM (#21561591)
    The benefit of a 'healthy' full body scan isn't finding current problems. When you do have a problem, already having had a scan when you didn't have that problem, allows a new scan to be much more useful, in as much as you already know what was there ahead of time, and can take a gander at what has changed.
  • by Seumas (6865) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:41PM (#21561653)
    I'll be all for it once the government wants to pay for it. The telco companies violated numerous laws to "aide" the government in "hunting for terrorists". Government homeland security agent used database information to harass and threaten his ex girlfriend. Google and Yahoo! work with just about any government to do whatever they want against their people, in the interest of better corporate relations with their governments.

    So why exactly should I not expect my DNA information to be archived, cataloged and given to the government at-whim? And since we KNOW that is going to happen, why in the fuck should I spend a thousand bucks for that? As long as they're going to violate me, they might as well at least PAY for it.
  • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hedwards (940851) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:41PM (#21561661)
    Exactly, and we don't have any particular reason to believe at this point, that those 550k include all of the ones that would be interesting anyways. A complete sequence would be far more useful even before we know what everything does, because later on one could reinterpret the sequence without having to do it a second time.

    One could much more easily go in later and interpret the sequence, than have to do it a second time to fill in the missing gaps.

    Personally, I'm going to pass at least until I can have my entire DNA sequenced. I may even then wait depending upon the level of concern I have for what is done with the information.
  • by macklin01 (760841) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:42PM (#21561675) Homepage

    I know, I know. You could probably just data-mine the DNA itself to figure out individual identities. In the future, if you ever go to another site and put it a few genes (for whatever purpose) that get linked to your real identity, you will be screwed. But hey, how's that any different than data mining Netflix?

    Well, if somebody finds my Netflix data, they may find out my most secret movie preferences. If insurance companies or employers link me to my DNA and discover a genetic pre-disposition to brain cancer or a debilitating disease, I'll never get health insurance again, and the misfortune will probably extend to any offspring as well. And would anybody hire you (and again, your children) if you have a genetic pre-disposition to MS or some other debilitating condition? Prospective employers are already googling for damaging Facebook information; just wait until genes enter the mix!

    Until good privacy protections and anti-discriminatory legislation are in place, we're talking about a whole different level of risk. -- Paul

  • by confusednoise (596236) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:44PM (#21561703)

    a scientifically inclined undergrad would be making a huge gamble by selecting Bio as a major.


    A huge gamble if the size of your paycheck is the only criterion you use to judge the success of your career choices...there are others - pursuing what you love comes to mind, for example.

    Just food for thought...
  • Re:No! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vertinox (846076) on Monday December 03, 2007 @01:48PM (#21561745)
    Do I want to know if x years from now I'm likely to come down with Parkinsons Disease? Not really, I'd rather just live my life than worry about the future.

    I'd rather know sooner than later if I am going to have a terminal illness.

    For one, preventative measures might make me live long enough for a cure if caught early on.
    Secondly, I wouldn't worry so much saving for retirement or paying off bills. Seriously, it would suck to finally have all this money and then get too sick to enjoy life and die shortly thereafter.
  • by JavaLord (680960) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:03PM (#21561941) Journal
    You need to read about Learned Helplessness [wikipedia.org]. You can prevent your government from enacting policy, that is if you can get over your perceived inability to do so.
  • by foxtrot (14140) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:07PM (#21562019)
    ...but I can get my dog's DNA scanned for $100 [doggiednaprint.com].

    Seems overpriced to me. I already know I'm at risk for diabetes and heart disease, but I have no idea what breeds are mixed up in my mutt...

    -F
  • by pintpusher (854001) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:09PM (#21562049) Journal
    No it's not. It's a very effective and profitable way of using fear to separate people from their money.
  • by ncalsmitty1369 (880093) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:25PM (#21562255)
    Aren't there laws about illegal wire tapping?
  • by squiggleslash (241428) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:26PM (#21562273) Homepage Journal

    Never really understood why people consider knowing they're going to die 15 years from now of something specific more terrible than finding out you have six months to live after a year or two of medical prodding and poking.

    As far as I'm concerned, I'd like to know. The sooner the better.

  • by Detritus (11846) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:27PM (#21562289) Homepage
    What about diseases like Huntington's chorea? Get a positive on the genetic test and no insurance company will touch you, besides having to deal with the knowledge that you are truly screwed.
  • by eno2001 (527078) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:40PM (#21562451) Homepage Journal
    Ahhh... you seem to be new here. There is a new language that is growing like a cancer. It's called iEnglish. In general it has only a few additional syntactical rules over standard English and a blatant disregard for classic English grammar. Accompanying that are also rules of engagement for internet forums:

    1. If you are below a certain level of intelligence and you think it looks cool, do it. Example: Can u read this?
    2. The rules of standard English are kind of stodgy and don't really hold up well in polls. Just use whatever you think works and most people will know what you mean even if you don't write it correctly. Also make sure to embrace Appalachionics since it has a warm and homey feel that makes you seem like someone people would want to have a beer with: My warshing machine needs fixed. Or... The nukyelar family is important above else all!
    3. Make sure to avoid using more than one or two sentences per paragraph and no more than four paragraphs when writing stuff unless you want someone to think you're boring. Example:

    a. Good writing:

    "That guy's a troll. He sucks donkey dicks

    It's a good thing we're on Digg. None of those crappy Slashdotters.

    Go back to Slashdot you asshat."

    b. Bad writing:
    "Please don't feed the trolls. If you pay more attention to them, they'll keep coming back and lower the tone. The other fallout, is that we have more noise vs. signal if you insist on engaging the trolls. This has been a truism since the beginning of Usenet. I should know, I was there..." (Goes on for ten paragraphs with endless words that are boring, like "truism". WTF is a truism and why should we know?)

    4. Make sure to nip any kind of conversation in the bud that isn't beer drinker friendly. The best way to do that is to instantly refer to the poster as a troll if they say something you don't like. The second best way is to invoke Godwin's law even if it doesn't really fit. The main is to keep people from talking about stuff that sucks. Remember, if it won't play on Spike TV, The SciFi Channel, or G4, then it shouldn't be on line either.

    5. Always ALWAYS A-L-W-A-Y-S use pictures of videos instead of writing. It's so much cleaner and easier to understand than all that messy and archaic mucking about with text. All you need is a photo or video the presents what you want it to say, then a subject like "Amazing thing!!!!" and you're all set. You'll be communicating in the 21st century in ways that would have had Gutenberg himself breaking out into a cold sweat over.

    Welcome to the intarweb tubes. Don't forget to tip heavily!
  • by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:07PM (#21562791)

    For that reasons the medical profession train folk for years to deliver this information - to explain what it really means, for you and for your family. To discuss your options. The data should be available,should be affordable, and should be delivered by a professional, not by an email.

    Screw that. Our society has viewed doctors as a combination of voodoo and god for too long. From what I've seen, the average doctor's 'bedside manner' is pathetic enough that an email can't be that much worse.

    As someone who's had to diagnose my own medical problems after 8 doctors failed for a decade, I'll take the information and use it myself, thanks.

  • Re:No. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:14PM (#21562879)
    And we could do it even faster if it weren't for those black people slowing us down. [bbc.co.uk]

    IMHO, Watson is no better than those damn trolls that posts comments immediately after articles appear. Sad that he could make a contribution to science, yet still be so immature and misguided.
  • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:15PM (#21562885) Homepage Journal

    It's more childish than it is clever or ironic, given that no one believed he would live forever

    Only if you interpret it as an argument, rather than a clever/humorous commentary.

    If you believe in God and consider Nietzsche presumptuous for believing himself able to comment authoritatively on God's existence, then it's a clever and somewhat funny comment. You can imagine God rolling his eyes at Nietzsche's claim and then after Nietzsche died making the clever comeback -- but this time the statement was accurate.

    If you don't believe in God and consider Nietzsche to have been correct, then it seems nonsensical.

    If you try to interpret it as an argument for God's existence, rather than a commentary from someone who already assumes God's existence, then it seems circular, weak and largely pointless.

  • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:29PM (#21563059) Homepage Journal

    Do you have a wife? Kids? Maybe just thinking about buying a house and starting a family? Imagine being in that position and suddenly finding out that a 30 year mortgage isn't going to happen... Imagine you were trying for kids, just got good news from your wife, then get an email and find out you most likely won't see your unborn son graduate high school.

    So your argument is that you're better off *not* knowing?

    I disagree. I have a family and a mortgage, and if I'm going to die of something in a few years, I'd like to know as soon as possible, so I can make appropriate plans. Sure, I have to plan for my demise anyway because I could get hit by a bus, and even if I found out I have something that will almost certainly do me in by the time I'm 50, I'd still have to make plans to address the possibility that it won't kill me, but the knowledge would affect my plans.

    Honestly, the only reason I can think of for why anyone wouldn't want to know is that they're afraid of thinking about their own death. IMO, those people are the ones who most need the wakeup call, so they can start accepting it and deal with it. Everyone *is* going to die, and the issue should be faced head-on rather than ignored because it's unpleasant.

    The data should be available,should be affordable, and should be delivered by a professional, not by an email.

    People who'd prefer to have some support before dealing with such news should have that option, sure. But people who are already comfortable with the fact that they're mortal shouldn't have any trouble with e-mail notification.

  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:32PM (#21563109)
    Screening full body CT scans are criticized primarily because they increase your risk of dying, not decrease it.

    The radiation from a full body CT scan isn't that big a dose, but it has a non-zero chance of causing a lethal cancer, particularly in young people. The chances of having the scan saving their lives is also non-zero, but closer to zero than the cancer risk.
  • by JavaLord (680960) on Monday December 03, 2007 @04:00PM (#21563485) Journal
    Unfortunately, there's one little hitch. Changing policy requires that many other people agree with you. Perhaps you've had your head in the sand the last few years, but it's a huge effort just to find a lot of people who don't agree that it's a sweet deal to trade some of their liberties and freedoms for perceived security.

    I think what needs to be done on that front is an improvement in rhetoric. For Bush-ites who support such things in the war on terror, I usually gently point out that another president could abuse such laws even if Bush did not. I usually follow that up by asking them how they'd feel if Hillary had the right as president to check out their library records or conduct a warrantless search because they were deemed a "terroristic threat" for being part of the "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy".

    That usually makes them think a bit. Then I start to talk about Ron Paul.

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