Is it Ethical To Try a DNA Testing Kit If Your Family Is Against It?

Published on April 27, 2020

A couple of years ago, I bought a DNA testing kit to find out more about myself and where I come from. It told me pretty much exactly what I thought it would. My Nona was not exactly telling the truth when she said we had Native American ancestry. I’m mostly of European descent, with a touch of Middle Eastern from my paternal grandma. It was a fun little experiment, and it made me feel connected with my own history and who I am.

My brother, however, was not quite as pleased with my DNA testing kit adventure. My little brother is an intensely private person, bordering almost on paranoia. He has no social media and gave the dinner table an elaborate lecture when he came home from college to find that our father put a Google Home in the kitchen. When he found out I had voluntarily given my DNA, approximately 50% of which he shares, to a biotechnology company he was less than thrilled.

Is it Crazy to Be Concerned?

His concerns in this case, however, are not entirely unfounded. 23andMe has faced controversy about how it handles personal data since its inception. People have a right to be concerned. We live in a world where personal privacy is a constant hot button topic and it seems like every new technology leaves us potentially at risk.

At-home DNA testing kits came to the forefront of ethical discussions when one of these online genealogy services led to the capture of the Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo. Officials took DNA from the crime scenes and compared it to a relative of the suspect’s DNA that they obtained from one of these DNA testing companies. 23andMe and other major companies publicly denied that they had any involvement in the capture of the Golden State Killer, but it raised questions and concerns about what your DNA can really be used for once it’s handed over to a company.

Now, it’s easy to say as long as you don’t murder anyone, it’ll be fine. Don’t commit crimes and leave your DNA at crime scenes and there’s nothing to worry about. However, it’s not that simple.

Data and DNA Testing

First of all, DNA can be misleading. Just because your DNA is found at a crime scene doesn’t mean you committed a crime, and this could potentially spell trouble for anyone who is falsely accused. According to The Innocence Project, about 20,000 people currently incarcerated are falsely convicted.

However, that’s not really the major concern here. 20,000 is not that big of a number when you consider the entire US population. The much larger concern should be how these companies use the data extrapolated from these tests.

A DNA testing kit doesn’t just tell you about your ancestry. Many of them often test for genetic indicators related to various medical conditions. It’s really an issue of privacy. How many companies do you want to have access to your personal genetic information? How will those companies use that information to try to sell you something? Could it potentially affect insurance?

This data may very well just be used for medical research, which is what 23andMe claims. However, if you read the fine print, 23andMe reserves the right to use your data to potentially try to sell you products or services related to your health. And the company has confirmed in the past that they will share data with third parties. Who knows what happens to your data from there.

Are You Putting Your Family At Risk

So how much of a concern should this be for family members? The short answer is that I wouldn’t worry about it too much. The chances of your DNA testing impacting your family is pretty slim. The long answer is that it depends on the family. Could your use of a home DNA kit potentially lead to his or her arrest? Do they share genetic conditions with you? Are they extra worried about privacy concerns? If all three of those questions are a “no” then it’s all good. But if any of those questions is a yes, proceed with caution.

If I had to do it all over again knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have taken the test. I do not suspect anyone in my family of leaving their DNA at crime scenes, but out of respect for our collective privacy, I just might refrain.

Olivia Smith is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in San Francisco, she covers events, entertainment, fashion, and technology. She also serves as a Voices contributor at PopSugar.

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