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Narrative Review

Vol. 20 No. 2 (2022): New Horizons: Innovation in Medicine

Epistemic and ethical considerations in the direct-to-consumer health and ancestry genetic testing process

February 8, 2021


Background: Direct-to-consumer genetic testing (DTC-GT) is a popular and fast-growing field within the healthcare industry. Consumers often pursue DTC-GT without a clear understanding of its epistemic and medical limitations. This report will present the current state of DTC-GT technology, and highlight the ethical, legal and social issues of DTC-GT.

Methods: Quantitative methods such as systematic reviews were used to evaluate the field of DTC-GT. Experimental data was taken from randomized control trials and case studies of 23andMe. Qualitative methods such as newspaper articles and surveys were also used. Relevant policies and regulatory information were analyzed in the context of 23andMe. Broader ethical issues are analyzed from the social disability model and feminist ethics frameworks.

Results: Several aspects of direct-to-consumer genetic testing are outlined: (i) regulatory and legal distinctions of DTC-GT that separate its use from conventional genetic testing, (ii) epistemic issues of the genetic testing process within the direct-to-consumer context, and (iii) ethical considerations of DTC-GT in regard to genetic health and genetic ancestry.

Conclusion: This report does not take a position for or against the use of DTC-GT; rather, it highlights the key ethical issues often missed in the DTC-GT process. There is no perfect method for understanding genetic health and race. DTC-GT offer consumers the ease and power of taking genetic data ‘in their own hands’, at the cost of exacerbating geneticization and race essentialism. Until further work is done to address the epistemic, regulatory and legal issues, ethical implications of DTC-GT usage will continue to exist.


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