It’s now cheaper than ever for humans to sequence their genome, but many scientists, policymakers, and doctors will advise against it. Among the common critiques are that the information isn’t actionable enough—it’s often about risks, rather than a diagnosis—and that false positive results are common, which could drive up overall health care costs. And what happens if a patient gets a result they didn’t want, like having a high risk for an incurable disease?
“People understand black holes better than gene sequencing in terms of scientific communication,” says notable geneticist George Church, when asked to comment on some of these criticisms in an interview with Fast Company. “There are so many misunderstandings.”
Church has a horse in the race (he’s the cofounder of genetic-testing company Veritas Genetics). But he does make the case that like any medical test, not everyone will receive an immediately actionable result. “If only a minority do, that doesn’t mean don’t do it,” he says. Moreover, he says, patients can request ahead of time with their primary care doctor that they don’t want to hear about results that aren’t actionable. “It is your right not to know,” he adds.