During 2002, the issue of over the counter genetic susceptibility tests has been in and out of the news. Back in March, we reported on a campaign to stop one company selling genetic susceptibility tests through a high street chain of shops. Then over the summer, the government advisory group, the Human Genetics Commission (HGC), published a public consultation on the issue, asking for suggestions on how (if at all) to regulate such tests.
Most people would agree that genetic tests which provide information for the individual and their families relating to serious disease should continue to be offered in a medical setting. The implications of such test results are significant and it is important that their meaning can be properly explained to patients.
But what about genetic tests which do not give information about a serious disease relevant to an individual and their family? Some tests, looking for a particular variation in a person's DNA, could give information about how their body handles alcohol or other toxins or whether they are at increased risk of skin cancer. Is a medical practitioner required to explain the implications of such a test or could information and advice be provided by a third party such as a dietician or a pharmacist? One important question is whether tests of this kind provide meaningful information that tells consumers something they didn't already know. Some people have expressed concern that those who take a test, but are shown to be at no greater risk, will be encouraged to pursue a sedentary lifestyle, assuming themselves to be immune from heart disease or even cancer. But are these fears exaggerated? And do they patronise the public and underestimate their ability to make sensible decisions?
There have been few opportunities to go beyond the headlines and debate genetic susceptibility tests in public. However on Wednesday evening, Progress Educational Trust is hosting a debate in London on the implications of genetic susceptibility tests. Although the HGC consultation is now closed, the commission is still interested to hear public and professional views before it reports to ministers at the end of the year. There are still places available for the debate, so if you want to take part in the discussion or even influence the direction of policy, reserve a place by replying to this email or signing up at http://www.progress.org.uk/events. Those of you who are unable to attend will be able to read a write up on our website.