Monday, September 7, 2009

Direct to Consumer Testing Issues

Will Genetic Genealogy Lose Its Place?

A small but vocal group of scientists and legislators are clamoring for government regulation of DNA testing. A few states have already succumbed to this hysteria, and Washington has dipped its toe into the murky waters.

What does this mean to family genealogists like us? It could mean that we would have to have our family doctor submit an order for us to obtain a simple Y-DNA test. And the results would go to him or her. (Could there be a touch of self-interest on the part of the scientific and medical community?) As genealogists, how many of us would be willing to involve our personal doctor in our genealogy quest – and pay for the privilege? What does our family doctor know about genealogy, and does he care? Is he really the best qualified person to interpret results for us? Did you ever think you would have to get your family doctor to approve before you could do genealogy? It all sounds rather silly to me.

One argument in favor of such regulation is that people do not understand what they are getting when they buy a test. But isn’t this true of many things? Isn’t it up to the consumer to research and understand what he is buying? Another is that there are claims being made by some companies that promise far more than they can deliver. But this is a fact of life. It is up to the consumer to evaluate these claims.

I am proud to know that Family Tree DNA (the company I have chosen for all my DNA Projects (see links in the sidebar) is the acknowledged leader in the business of genetic genealogical testing and, in fact, was awarded the Better Business Bureau’s Award for Excellence in customer service. Its website has been designated as the "Best Cutting Edge Web Site" by Family Tree Magazine. Even more important is the fact that Family Tree DNA (and ISOGG, the International Society for Genetic Genealogy) provides references to an extensive library of books, videos and scientific journals for its customers’ edification. It has knowledgeable people on staff (as well as a full complement of scientists) who can and do answer questions in a timely manner. It is deeply involved in scientific research to find new SNPs and STRs that offer new avenues to pursue for those who are interested in both anthropology and genealogy and in getting as much as possible out of their testing experience. (SNPs are the portions of DNA that reflect deep ancestry – thousands of years ago. STRs are the markers used for genealogical purposes.)

Another service provided by FTDNA is its support for “projects.” All project members benefit from that support by having access to significantly reduced prices and special promotions that are only available through projects. Additionally, volunteer project administrators like me are provided with ongoing education so that we can better serve our clients. We seek to educate and to help explain test results so that our clients do understand what they are buying and why, and what the results mean.

While the line between genetic genealogy and genome testing for health reasons is quite sharp, the naysayers are beginning to disregard that line and lump all genetic testing together. That is a sad day for genealogists who are just now beginning to reap the solid rewards of having databases that are large enough to provide answers to sticky questions. Ever larger databases of test results help all of us learn more about our family history and answer the age-old question, “Where do we come from?”. Any disruption of the flow of new testees is a disservice to those who have already tested and to the cause of genealogy for everyone. The jury is still out regarding the viability of genetic testing for disease. Obviously, again, the size of the database is critical and our knowledge will grow only as the database grows. And, in addition to all the reasons given above, there is the simple matter of personal choice that is taken away by increased regulation.

Since the key is an educated public, here are two websites that are highly recommended: www.isogg.org and www.thegeneticgenealogist.com.

Doris Wheeler, 8 Jul 2009

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