It was a busy month for predictive health news: the president signed GINA, Francis Collins announced his eminent retirement, bloggers reported from important conferences at Case Western and Cold Spring Harbor, and Google announced the debut of Google Health. These events, and others, are reflected in this month's edition of the best blogs on the ethical issues of predictive health.
Are you diseased? Pre-diseased? Potentially diseased? Greg Dahlmann, blog.bioethics.net. 6 May 2008.
In this insightful post, Dahlmann examines how predictive health is changing our concept of disease. When, exactly, does increased risk = illness? Dahlmann writes:
So we're moving from the concept of disease as a state of impaired function to it representing particular sets of probabilities. In the past you were sick when you had a heart attack. Today, you're sick -- or pre-sick, perhaps -- when you have high cholesterol. What about when it's possible to identify constellations of genes that significantly increase your chances of having high cholesterol, or a heart attack. Would that be considered a disease?
Also see Dahlmann's follow up post on "previvors": Blood Matters. Greg Dahlmann, blog.bioethics.net. 11 May 2008.
NHGRI Director Francis Collins to Step Down on August 1. Hsien-Hsien Lei, Eye on DNA. 28 May 2008.
Lei shares the news the Francis Collins will retire from his post this summer and that Alan E. Guttmacher will become acting director. Lei also some thoughts on Collins' book The Language of God.
In All Fairness. Fred Trotter, Fred Trotter: My life and thoughts, often about FOSS in medicine. 23 May 2008.
Following the news coverage on the release of Google Health, Fred Trotter weighs in on the privacy questions. Trotter argues that Google is not a health care provider and is, therefore, not covered by HIPAA. He writes:
Both Google Health and HealthVault are designed to make the process of dissemination of your health information to people you want them to be disseminated to easier. Are they doing that in a secure, privacy respecting way? Excellent question; fodder for further posts. Should they be covered by the same laws that cover your healthcare providers? No.
Workman's Compensation, Stereotypes and GATTACA. Steve Murphy, Gene Sherpas: Personalized Medicine and You. 10 May 2008.
Murphy addresses a few of the potential social consequences of predictive medicine, by examining the following scenario:
Young person goes to 23andME/Navigenics/ETC (They just may add this immediately)....gets predictive testing indicating that he is at a 300 fold increased risk of herniating a disc in his back. Avoids manual labor (plays video games all day) never herniates the disc. Did we do society a service?
23andMe, deCODEme and Navigenics at Cold Spring Harbor. Daniel MacArthur, Genetic Future. 9 May 2008.
MacArthur reports, first hand, from the "Biology of Genomes" meeting at Cold Spring Harbor. In addition to the big players in the consumer genomics movement, the speakers at the event included some ethics and policy experts, like Kathy Hudson from Johns Hopkins. Hudson, MacArthur notes, "responded to the problem of patients being given data of very limited predictive value with a very sensible solution: 'In the absence of demonstrable harm, the default should be to provide the information.'"
Genetic testing ethics - consent forms becoming incomprehensible. Elaine Warburton, Genetics and Health. 7 May 2008.
Warburton covers the Translating ELSI, Ethical Legal Social Implications of Human Genetics Research conference at Case Western University in Cleveland. In this entry she reports on Laura Beskow's comments regarding informed consent and the attitudes and concerns of research participants. Also see Warburton's related coverage of pediatric research ethics discussions at the conference in her post: Genetic Ethics - testing and storing our kids’ DNA. Genetics and Health. 7 May 2008.
The FDA ditches the Declaration of Helsinki. Stuart Rennie, Global Bioethics Blog. 6 May 2008.
Stuart Rennie of Global Bioethics Blog examines the implications of the FDA's decision to abandon the Declaration of Helsinki. While Rennie focuses on the potential impact of this decision on US research overseas, and not specifically on predictive health research, this decision may have far reaching consequences on clinical trials of any sort. Rennie concludes with the following verdict: "the decision would seem to encourage pharmaceutical companies to cut ethical corners when working abroad".
GINA Series: Irrational Bureaucratic Risk Abhorrence [Page 1]. Andrew Yates, Think Gene. 24 May 2008.
This is the first post of a (thus far) four part series on GINA. Each post begins with the introduction:
Recently, President Bush signed GINA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, into law. GINA makes it illegal for employers or health insurers to discriminate based on genetics. Virtually the entire genetics community has lauds this legislation, yet few have written why it's wrong that employers and services review objective facts to make decisions. … “It’s not fair…” but why?
The Puzzling Consensus in Favor of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Eric Posner, The University of Chicago Law School Faculty Blog. 6 May 2008.
In what may be the most influential post covered in this edition of the best predictive health ethics blogs, Chicago Law professor Eric Posner examines the GINA and asks some compelling questions:
Should the insurance company be permitted to offer the cheap insurance policy only to people who obtain a doctor's certification that a genetic test shows that they belong to the low-risk group? If you think that insurers should be able to discriminate on the basis of visible markers and on the basis of simple doctors' tests for the presence of dangerous diseases, then you should think they should be able to discriminate on the basis of genetic tests. There is no morally relevant distinction between looking at a person's blood for the evidence of infection and looking at his DNA for evidence of susceptibility to a disease. ... The only explanation for the enthusiasm for GINA is that there is an inchoate feeling among people that there is something wrong with the way the insurance market operates.
Medical Genetics Is Not Eugenics. Gabriella Coleman ("biella"), What Sorts of People. 16 May 2008.
Coleman responds to Ruth Cowan’s article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Medical Genetics Is Not Eugenics”. Although Cowan sees little value in thinking about the similarities of modern medical genetics and the mid-century eugenics movement, Coleman cautions:
Even if, as [Cowan] rightly states that genetic testing is oriented primarily toward easing human suffering, genetic testing is still entangled with fraught ethical questions about what types of life we value, what is acceptable human life, and what is not—the very sorts of questions central to eugenics.