Would you want to know?

Great Cowboy Junkies song from the 90s:

I just want to see what kills me. Well, would you? This morning, I learned of the existence of 23 and Me, a company that will do full genotyping of your spit sample for a cheap cheap $99. They’ll check your carrier status for 47 inherited conditions, and your genetic risk factors for 247 diseases. Genotyping can also reveal how you will respond (or fail to respond) to certain blood thinners, antidepressants, cholesterol-lowering meds, and so forth.

Do you want to know if you have a 60% chance of developing Parkinson’s disease? That you’re at risk of developing Lou Gehrig’s disease, coronary artery disease, cancer of the whatever? They’ve got all the bases covered. And if you think knowledge is power, 23 and Me is offering an awful lot of power for a relatively small sum of money.

I wonder, though, whether this knowledge might affect how I respond to future questionnaires for hospital privileges (Do you have any conditions which could affect your ability to perform your duties as a physician?) or health/life insurance. And if I learn something really scary, how do I keep it from dragging me down?

I think I want to do this. Of the other four docs who I was with today, only one of them was as excited as I was about the prospect of getting genotyped. The other three were of the No effing way persuasion.

I’m going to sleep on it.



  1. Sharon says:

    I worry enough as it is. I don’t need this. It’s like finding out when and how you’ll die.

  2. KGK says:

    I wonder if I can do it from overseas. I think I’m interested.

    We’re all going to die anyway, so why not get some info on the way. I suppose it depends on what you’ll do with the information. If you find out you’re susceptible to something, then maybe there are things you can do to minimize your chances.

    When I was pregnant, I thought through the amniocentesis thing, balancing the 1% chance of miscarriage with the value of the information. Given my fertility issues, the risk of miscarriage was a big deal. I had read that the test only identified 10% of the possible birth defects and the big focus seemed to be on Down’s syndrome. There were other tests that would give indications of Down’s and I had decided that the outcome of the test wasn’t going to cause me to terminate the pregnancy. So for me, I decided no. Another friend in a similar position decided yes with her main reason being that she’d want to be prepared in case she would be having a Down’s baby, given that she also wouldn’t end her pregnancy. Fortunately for us both, we had healthy babies.

    Will they also do the testing to see where your ancestors are from? I want to do that too! My hematologist asked me if I had any relatives from the Mediterranean area, since I have small red blood cells, which could mean alpha thalessimia. I said I didn’t, but then how much do we really know?

  3. Walnut says:

    Well, there’s two main worries as far as I can tell. One is that I would find out something I’d be better off not knowing (there are some horrible diseases on that list). The other is privacy — no matter how many reassurances the website provides, I still wonder about giving someone that much access to my personal information.

    Yes, Kira, they’ll give you ancestral data. It’s one of their big selling points. They say they can even help identify distant cousins, that sort of thing.