In the health world, now becoming more mainstream, is something that is propagated to help you live longer, give you more information about your body, and even predict your health in 10/20 years: genetic counseling. Not high-tech, serious, expensive genetic counseling, but genetic counseling that you can buy with just the click of a button.
With various websites and even phone applications that you can request a “genetic testing kit” for prices beginning at $50 USD, it can be tempting to buy into the promise of better knowledge about your health and nutrition, diseases that you may be at risk for, the percentages of ethnicities that you are, and more that the genetic counseling companies claim to provide to you. However, the science behind this genetic testing is extremely vague and nonspecific.
The popularity of genetic counseling services, especially online, is a service that is relatively new to science. It began in the 1940s, when Sheldon C. Reed coined the term “genetic counseling”. The idea was newfangled and futuristic, it raised many moral, ethical and scientific questions that still stand today.
The movie GATTACA, released in 1997, faces some of the ethical concepts about human engineering and genetic counseling and what makes us truly human, creating the one of the first commentaries on genetic counseling and modification that reached mainstream society. Only in 2003 was the Human Genome Project completed, a full mapping of the human genome, and the popularity and technological evolution of genetic counseling began to increase.
Today, software like 23&Me, Ancestry.com, AncestryDNA, and Pathway Genomics all have a compelling claim: predict the future of your health while telling information that can help you in the present also. However, these claims are fraught with FDA battles. Little do you know, genetic counseling and the FDA are in constant battles over the claims that they make on their websites: if you observe the claims of genetic counseling services from 2008 to now, they have decreased majorly in scope and specificity.
Now, genetic tests only test a small range of diseases, many of them rare genetic diseases most of the population does not have, and can only make very tentative and unfounded nutrition and heritage claims.
While genetic counseling is an amazing tool that will only grow in popularity and scope in the future as technology continues to grow, the propagation of false claims and claims to test for serious diseases will just cause either panic or false comfort.
Additionally, genetic counseling is expensive and now is viewed as a luxury service, and the growth in this idea could lead to changes in our society as genetic engineering becomes more commonplace and change the way our society is structured. The clarification of what genetic testing can truly test for and how to understand the information that we are given is vital in helping genetic counseling become part of the near future.