February 19, 2017

If those with good “3bn biochemical letters of human genome” ask insurance companies for rebates, what about the bad?

Sir, in screaming silence I read what Clive Cookson writes about “technologies advancing at extraordinary speed to make possible ultra-precise manipulation of the genome” “Engineered evolution takes another step forward” January 18.

In March 2000, after reading “the government plans to allow insurance companies to use DNA testing to assess whether people are at risk of inheriting serious illness and should pay higher premiums”, I wrote an Op-Ed titled “Human genetics made inhuman”.

In it I expressed many of the concerns about the discriminatory implications of DNA mapping and expressed the view that something needed to be done before any release of DNA information caused irreversible damage. I there suggested “that all insurance companies design a plan which obligates them to issue policies for all of those who undertake a genetic examination. This policy should cover the negative impact and consequence that could arise from anyone getting access to such information.”

But I also admitted: “I know this is only a Band-Aid, but what else can I do? I am not among those that resign and lie down to cry, even though this matter actually would justify just that.”

Now, 17 years later, I have no idea on whether something, anything, has been done to save humans from a release of the information contained in a “DNA sequencing, which reads out all 3bn biochemical letters of an individual human genome [and which can be done] in a few hours for less than $1,000”.

Sir, I ask, if with only $1,000 investment, I can get a test testifying I have a good DNA, and which perhaps allows me to for instance negotiate special favored rates with an insurance company, how will that affect those whose tests indicate a not so good or even a very risky DNA, something that in fact could include me or the ones I love?

Environmental challenges, 1st class robots, 3rd class robots, intelligent artificial intelligence, dumb artificial intelligence, terrorism, nuclear weapons, fast and cheap DNA testing, crazy bank regulators, structural unemployment… and the list of challenges goes on and on. How will a world that spends so much of its very scarce attention span glued to so very attractive juicy fake/irrelevant news stories cope?