Commercial DNA testing companies are busy marketing their services as a way to learn about your genetic background and the geographic history of your family tree. I have been researching my own family history, but I’m going to have to pass on their offer.
The analysis of my DNA would be very interesting. The information I have learned on FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com has proven to be very interesting and matches information that a distant cousin had complied in a book back in the 1980’s. Most of my family came to America while America was still the colonies of Great Britain. I have ancestors from the area that is now Germany, Ireland, Scotland and France. The documented history links my family to several nobles and kings of Europe and even Charlemagne.
(I thought the link to Charlemagne was pretty cool, until I learned that everyone of European decent can find a link to Charlemagne. You can read an interesting article from National Geographic here. Oh well…)
This “documented” history may or may not be accurate, so it leads to a different question—if I am so interested in my genealogy, why would I shun the DNA testing that could provide definitive answers to many of my family history questions? The answer to that question is based on another question; how will my DNA sample be used five, ten or twenty years from now?
There are a few news reports about how law enforcement has been able to obtain DNA information from these companies and then use that DNA analysis to link to a relative who was involved in some criminal behavior. You can read one report from NBC News here. As a retired police officer I thought to myself that this was a creative new approach to solving serious crime, especially cold murder cases.
Also keep in mind, every time you share what is private you reduce your expectation of privacy and even information that is legally protected in court can be exposed by sharing with people outside of protected relationships. So, what you believe is private may not actually be private at all.
Who will have access to the DNA information from these testing companies? Clearly, law enforcement because the information is being shared with investigators today. Will hackers get access to the information? Credit card companies and retailers often tell us about how robust their cyber security is, and then we hear about another incident where millions of records were accessed by a hacker, so…do these DNA testing companies have better security that credit card companies? I don’t know, do you?
Will this DNA information be used by health insurance companies in the future? Will my DNA information be used to deny my grandchildren access to health insurance, or employment, or even housing because of information found in an analysis of my DNA?
Commercial testing of DNA is easy, relatively cheap, and the results are interesting. This is the hook that has brought so many people into the growing DNA database. It is a lot like eating ice cream–it taste so good, but is not necessarily good for you.
Before you submit a sample, ask yourself what will be the long-term cost and the unintended consequences? I have thought about it, and in the interest of my grandchildren’s future I think for now I will say, no thank you!
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