Genetics for the People?

“Your genetic information should be controlled by you,” declares an advertisement for the US direct-to-consumer genetic-testing firm 23andMe – an appealing notion, especially given the current furor over electronic eavesdropping. But whether 23andMe is practicing what it preaches remains dubious, at best.

LONDON – “Your genetic information should be controlled by you,” declares an advertisement for the American direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic-testing firm 23andMe. Amid the current furor over electronic eavesdropping, the notion that individuals should decide who can access their personal data is particularly appealing. But whether 23andMe is practicing what it preaches remains dubious, at best.

In fact, even some “techno-libertarians,” who believe that government should not regulate new developments in biotechnology, have supported the US Food and Drug Administration’s decision – outlined in a scathing letter to 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki last November – to prevent the firm from marketing its tests pending further scientific analysis. “I’d like to be able to argue that the [FDA] is wantonly standing in the way of entrepreneurism and innovation by cracking down on 23andMe,” wrote Matthew Herper in Forbes. “I wish that was the story I’m about to write, but it’s not.”

According to the FDA, 23andMe’s marketing of an unapproved Personal Genome Service (PGS) violated federal law, because, after six years, the firm still had not proved that the tests actually work.

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