Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The GAO, Congress and the public on genetic testing

The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on "Direct-To-Consumer Genetic Testing and the Consequences to the Public Health" on Thursday. I haven't seen any news after the fact, but it was covered by the 23andMe blog "The Spittoon," where I got the link to the committee's own website (which has copies of the testimony). The hearing included a report from the GAO which made a strong case for regulation of direct-to-consumer testing, including an extremely disturbing "video" which appeared on YouTube ("video" in quotes because it's actually just recordings of telephone calls with the words printed on screen). I think that it is almost certain that new regulations will emerge soon.

23andMe customers have responded, and there is a petition calling for continued access to genetic information. I signed it myself, making this statement:
I certainly recognize the need to insure that test results are valid. However, I'm not sure that goes beyond CLIA certification. I also recognize the need to protect consumers from misinformation and bad advice from the unqualified. However, I'm not sure that is within the FDA's purview. My main point is that secure and private access to reliable personal genetic information is a valuable thing that does not put the consumer at undo risk.
That said, regulations that protect consumers from bad advice may be appropriate. However, it's going to be tricky, because we're talking about regulation of speech and education. I hope that the regulations are written in a way that encourages the broad dissemination of genetic knowledge from the many reliable sources currently available.

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