Monday, September 28, 2009

ANALYSIS - "Direct-to-consumer genetic tests: beyond medical regulation?" D. Magnus, et al.

A "Commentary" paper that leads off with an abstract stating DTC test analysis is "uncertain because of the lack of information about environmental and other factors, and because for the vast majority of genetic loci the associations with disease are weak". This assessment is based on only one paper reference.

The introduction of the paper provides a brief description of DTC tests and asks if tests should be regulated. The Discussion section covers the current federal and state regulatory framework for genetic tests already in place including the 2008 California Dept. of Public Health's "cease and desist" letters.

The authors' opinion that the DTC companies arguments for offering tests directly to the public are "weak to indefensible" citing that while "People may indeed have a right to their genetic information, but it does not follow that we should not regulate the process to make sure that information is appropriately provided." They summarize that the second argument for public DTC is that the tests are "not really medical" and the third argument is "that patients deserve direct access to their health information without a physician intermediary." The authors state that "A physician working for a company selling tests is clearly not well situated to look after a patient's best interest".

The authors stretch to support this argument with, "To make matters more confusing, personal genomics could predict risks of very weak genetic associations while leaving out powerful predictive mutations" like in a rare form of breast cancer. But then the straw-man is revealed in their caveat, "But these are not tests offered through personal genomics services."

The authors then postulate that "California and New York states are right to create standards to protect their citizens from the risks of medical testing" which first of all, California did not create a "standard"; the California Dept. of Public Health arbitrarily sent "cease and desist" letters based on anonymous "letters of complaint". New York's law dates from 1996, and can hardly be suggested as standards created for the DTC-era since the law pre-dates it.

The authors acknowledge that physicians will need training. What the authors do not mention is what kind of impact such training will have upon the industry such as: will all physicians require training? Who will pay for the training? How long will such training take and will the DTC companies still be allowed to sell tests during this time frame? These and many more questions need answering before any legislation or standards are imposed.

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