By Kristen Linsalata
We live in an age where science is rapidly progressing. Immunizations, vaccines, and other scientific advancements make it so that some diseases that used to kill millions of people, such as small pox and tuberculosis, do not affect the average person today. Yet, millions of people die each year because of diseases that they were genetically predisposed to and weren’t aware of getting. If it were possible to know exactly what diseases you might contract in your lifetime, would you want to know?
“Knowledge is power,” said Doug Robinson, a sophomore Theatre Arts major. “For example, if it came back that you were predisposed to get prostate cancer, then you could look up preventative measures such as a special diet that could help decrease your chances of getting it,” he added.
“I have a lot of family members that passed away from cancer. I would like to know if I’m predisposed to it. If the test was available to me then I would take it,” said Justin Barsky, a graduate student in the Digital Game Development and Design program.
Genetic testing allows people to find out what exactly they are predisposed to in terms of illness and disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit worldwide leader in medical care, research, and education, genetic testing can reveal changes or alterations in genes that may cause illness or disease. However, there are limitations to the testing. Although genetic testing can provide important information for diagnosing, treating, and preventing illness, it doesn’t definitely mean that the person will develop a disease that he or she has demonstrated a predisposition to.
Interest was sparked in genetic testing when Angelia Jolie, an American actress, revealed that she underwent a preventative double mastectomy and hysterectomy after genetic testing revealed that she had an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer due to a defective gene. Students at LIU Post sympathize with and understand the measures that Jolie took, and some claim they would undergo the same procedures if they found out that they were predisposed to a certain illness.
“Breast cancer is extremely serious, so I understand why Jolie got a mastectomy to prevent breast cancer,” said Brian Riley, a sophomore Journalism major. “I would do the same thing if I was in her position.”
Marit Ronningen, a senior Sociology major, agrees that she would want to take the test, but questions whether or not she would follow through with what some people would call the “drastic measures” that Jolie took.
“If it was something that I could prevent, without doing anything drastic, then I would take the appropriate measures,” Ronningen said. “If it was affordable, I probably would get the test because I don’t know a lot about diseases in my family.”
Ronningen brings up a question that many people face: Does the cost [of genetic testing] allow the tests to be accessible to most citizens?
According to the Genetics Home Reference website, an online service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the cost of genetic testing can range from under $100 to more than $2,000, depending on the nature and complexity of the test, if more than one test is necessary, or if multiple family members must be tested to obtain a meaningful result. Depending on the person’s socio-economic stance, then this either makes taking the test possible or not possible.
“It would have to be affordable,” said Michael Youssef, a senior Journalism major. “I would do it if my insurance covered it.”
However, some students believe that taking the test would interfere with the natural progression of life and would prefer not to know what diseases they were predisposed to.
“I have to take my family into account because I am a mother,” said Hanit Gluck, a senior Early Childhood Education major. “I wouldn’t want to take the test because I wouldn’t want the prognosis to shape my life. It’s hard to say because if there was an achievable cure then I would want to know, but I have to look at it from the perspective of what I put my family through.”
Focusing solely on a disease you may or may not ever develop is a valid concern. Since genetic testing is not absolute, there are no guarantees that you will or will not acquire the disease you demonstrated predisposition to. Perhaps, the prospect of choice and options is the most comforting part of the growing science of genetic testing. For some, genetic testing is the perfect solution to diseases that could be potentially prevented. Yet, to others, it is something that causes conflict, as well as difficult and painful decision-making.