Genetic testing benefits and risks--NPR Science Friday

Although I am a regular listener to public radio, I tend to keep my dial on the local all-classical station, avoiding the many talk shows on the statewide public radio station. So, I keep forgetting to listen to Science Friday with Ira Flatow. Luckily for me--and you--NPS provides the full broadcast for listeners to access at any time.

All you have to do is register on the NPR site, by giving your name, age, e-mail address, and a password you select. You don't even have to wait for acceptance or acknowledgement from the website.

Once you have logged in, you can select a specific program (Science Friday) to hear and click on other audios to get the particular one you want. Or, of course, you can go directly there and scroll down to select the April 4 edition of Talk of the Nation: Science Friday.

Most of what I heard in the recording of last Friday's program was not new to me. Of course, I have been following the subject for some time. Some comments from the medical expert were new. He addressed the issue of discrimination in insurance coverage and jobs.

Many, many people--especially adolescents--worry about the safety of their genetic information and about future discrimination based on that information. That message was loud and clear during the classes I attended at Portland State University a couple of years ago. In addition, most news articles refer to the potential for discrimination as a primary reason for not getting genetic testing done or a key argument against any group obtaining and retaining our DNA.

I comment on it all the time.

But, Dr. Ken Offit, chief of the Clinical Genetics Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, dispelled these fears very strongly by stating that his group has conducted thousands of genetic tests and that insurance companies have apparently chosen to not only pay for those tests, but to not receive results from the tests. He feels that potential discrimination by insurance companies is not as great a concern as many feel. They have made a fundamental decision that the ounce of prevention (genetic testing) is a good idea. He stated that from the cancer arena that discrimination is not occurring. However, it is still in the "public conscious mind" and may, ironically send people to the direct-to-consumer testing that is not as well-controlled.

He noted, in response to a question, that New York has a strict privacy law, but no law against insurance discrimination based on genetic information.

Listen to the program youself if you want to know more.

Marie Godfrey, PhD



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