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Debating the Merits of Personal Genomics

Actress Glenn Close made news last week when she had her DNA fully sequenced. Since then, the blogosphere has been buzzing with opinions on whether Close was smart or stupid to get her genetic map laid out in such detail. In Sunday's Times Online, Camilla Long spoke out against such personal genetic testing, saying DNA, in this case, stands for "Do Not Ask." What kind of impact would it have on a person's mental state, she asks, if they found out they had a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's or alcoholism? What if health insurance companies started rejecting people on the basis of pre-existing genetic conditions? Better not to know, she says. But Genetic Future's Daniel MacArthur says willful ignorance is no argument against personal genomics. He says there's no evidence that learning of a future disease could harm someone's mental health, and that that notion is unsupported by current studies. As for who would want to know about risk for heart disease, or alcoholism? If someone knows about their risk for heart disease, they can take steps early on to prevent it, MacArthur says. Even if a person were to find out that Alzheimer's was inevitable, they could at least put their affairs in order and make sure they had long-term care. "If Long wishes to stay ignorant of her own genetic risks ... that should be her choice. But her criticism of others who choose to pursue a greater understanding of their own genetic risk is entirely, horrendously misplaced," he writes.