Should Your Genome Be Public Property?

In a future of personalized medicine in which diagnoses can be made in advance and treatments can be adjusted based on your genomic sequence, I ask my readership whether it’s right for employers, admissions committees, etc. to have access to this information.

Let’s put things in perspective with a hypothetical scenario. According to the imperfect science of “genome reading”, based on the particular SNP patterns I have within my genome, I have a 50% chance of having hypertension, 75% chance of having diabetes, and 80% chance of Parkinson’s before I reach the age of 60 (yes, I know this is a very crude way of representing the possibilities of personalized medicine, but for the sake of simplicity, it will suffice). Also, genetics tells me that I have Huntington’s chorea (assuming my mother had it) and will probably begin to express symptoms in my late 20s.

Now, knowing all of this, should the medical admissions committees also have the right to know this? Should they have the right to reject me solely on the grounds that I wouldn’t be able to practice medicine successfully for more than five years. Let’s extend this to job applications. If I apply for a research position with some third-party institution, should they have the right to reject my application? Well, legislature passed in early 2005 (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) says that they can’t. But there are an endless number of loopholes they could use to get around the fact that they rejected me primarily due to my predisposition to certain diseases.

From the position of an employer, I can understand why they would be cautious in hiring employees with so much “genetic baggage”, if you will. Employers are in business to make money rather than having to attend to employees which prove to be more like liabilities rather than productive individuals.

People need to come to reality and accept their mortality. If I really did have all those diseases in my future (especially Huntington’s), I wouldn’t even pursue medicine. I rather spend my last few symptom-free years enjoying life. I’d much rather have a student take my spot in medical school who’ll be practicing for years. Because of diabetes and hypertension in my future, I would be far more concerned with my diet and exercise regiment early on in life to postpone the inevitable. I dislike people who just take advantage of their youth by thinking they’re invincible. Maybe a forecast of how miserable our senior years will be due to our genetics (something which we can’t currently alter) will slap some sense into us. 🙂

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  1. I think you misunderstood my viewpoint, Fyfy. When I was talking about not attending medical school if I could only practice for five years, that is honestly my personal opinion. I would rather get a “less intense” job, have a family, and enjoy like that way. I wouldn’t encourage others to do the same unless they reasoned the situation as I did. Everyone finds happiness in different ways (as Rizwana was referring to), so I hope those great minds out there still embark on ambitious journeys even though their future looks gloomy.

  2. I do AGREE with Rizwana. I think too many Asian,(when I said Asain I mean all the yellow and your brown) are getting into medical school because of their parents. This is ridiculous, some are not even passion about it, matter of fact some hate it. These are the people who always come late to class, always skip, and when they do come to class they are on facebook or playing video games. They know who they are. They complain about studying, about their teachers, about the tests being hard, and so on. In thier mind once they get into medical school or graduate from medical school the hardships will be over. WRONG!!!! Once you graduate you being working at about $50,000 per year MAX as an intern. Your patients come before your family. You be at working at least 50 hour a week and that is just a tip of the iceberg. So unless your passion about, don’t do it. Being a doctor is no Greys anatomy. And for all your ladies out there there is “NO MCDREAMY”, so do not look for him because you won’t find him. Sorry to go off topic.

  3. I completely DISAGREE. I think that a person genome should be protected from the government. I know to let someone with a 75% of having Parkinson before the age of 40 into medical school maybe crazy for some people, but accomplishments has nothing to do with genetics. Rishi, Stephen Hawking is the world greatest physicist with Lou Gehrig Disease, yet he accomplished the imaginable. Let just go back in time and Mr. Hawking is a young student applying for admission at Cambridge University. He was turn down because he has a 80% of getting Lou Gehrig Disease. Rishi, this is your idol. If he was turn down he would not get a chance to give his wonderful contribution to the world in the field cosmology.

    How about the “mother of modern DNA”. Rosalind Franklin. She had deadly disease that common with her race. Let just said we know women of her race are 65% chance of getting ovarian cancer so he rejected her. Would we get the X-ray DNA?

    All I am saying a person abilities has nothing to do with the genome. Your mind is not limited by your body. May be a person with a 80% of getting cancer before the age of 50 will find the cured for AIDS, but was turn down because of his gene. That would not only be prejudice, but a tragedy.

    I hope I did not offend you

  4. Its sad really (the insurance thing) because healthcare is essentilly about helping the sick, not refusing help…

    To me, the selfish thing has a fine line.

    I honestly consider those who go to medical school, with preplanning that they will get married in an X amount of years or have kids in an X amount of years, or pursue another career (being forced by parents) in an X amount of years, and quit medicine selfish.

    (Which is something i see ALOT in desi society…esp. in the entertainment buss. in Paki, half of them are doctors! seats there are limited too!)

    But for someone, whose “dying” or “last” wish it is per say, I dont find it selfish. Perhaps they think their life will be incomplete without reaching this one ambition of theirs.

  5. No, it shouldn’t be public property. (Esp. to insurance companies, but thats a whole other issue). For you, you may want to spend your symptom free years enoying life. But what that means to you, might mean something else to another. “Enjoying life” for them might mean to fulfill thier dreams of lets say becoming a Doctor. Besides, diseases have cures, what if later on a cure is found, or lets say you spend so much time working on changing the “hypothesis” that it works, and you end up with no hypertension etc…Than you could have been a Doctor. I say, to each their own. If one wants to spend time pursuing their academic career, so be it, others pursuing a “fun life” than so be it. But i dont think it should be public property released to schools, insurance companies, employers, etc..

  6. Fair enough. I still think it’s selfish for an individual who knows that they won’t practice for more than five years to waste a medical school’s time in training them. But again, just my opinion. I also agree that it’ll be a disaster with insurance companies. Heck, we already have issues gaining insurance with “preexisting conditions.” Imagine when they’ll know of everything you’ve had, have, and will have in the future. XD. Kind of reminds me of the credit issue. Some companies advertise the fact that they don’t check your credit before you purchase furniture, a vehicle, etc. and consequently get customers with poor credit. In the future, insurance companies may advertise the fact that they don’t check your genomes and will reap business from people with a laundry list of conditions.


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