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Should I Use Genetic Testing on My Kids?

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I’m alone in the car, which means no Kid’s Place Live or Madagascar 3 soundtrack is blasting for the 13th time. I turn off the kids' stuff and turn on NPR, in hopes of recharging whatever brain cells I lost listening to "I Like to Move It" on repeat. A story comes on that piques my interest. It seems the FDA has just pulled a personalized DNA test, called 23andMe, from the shelves due to misleading marketing materials and a threat to public safety. In my mind, a personalized do-it-yourself DNA test sounds harmless. What’s the big deal? I think to myself. After all, is it really any different than a home pregnancy test?

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I listen further.

The test has been on the market since 2007. According to the government, the test can give false and misleading results that can cause its user to panic and make ill-informed decisions. Without a doctor on hand to interpret the results, users are unable to properly understand the data, which can be harmful to their health. But that’s not the part of the story that gets my interest.

What really interests me is that whether it be through 23andMe, or another FDA-approved personalized test, I could find out how likely I am to suffer a genetic health risk like cancer or Parkinson’s. And if I can find out if I’m likely to get a debilitating illness, I can also find out if my kids will.

Maybe there are preventive measures we could take, or research we’d brush up on.

Truth be told, I’ve always been somewhat old-fashioned when it comes to medicine. By choice, I didn’t find out the gender of either of my children before they were born in favor of finding out when the babies arrived. While pregnant, I did genetic testing, but remained ambivalent as to what I’d do if the results didn’t go my way. And despite other friends trying for a certain gender when attempting to get pregnant, it never occurred to me to mess with nature. I took what I got and was happy about it.

But there’s old-fashioned, and then there’s practical. Isn’t it practical to find out if I’m going to get sick? I could better prepare myself and make sure my affairs are in order. And as a mother, is it my job to find out if my kids are predisposed to an illness? Maybe there are preventive measures we could take, or research we’d brush up on.

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This question nags at me all day long. Ultimately, I’m conflicted. What if the statistics are just statistics? I’d hate to raise my kids differently because they “might get sick.” I’d hate to live my life differently because I might get sick, unless of course, I live my life better than if I expected to live a long and healthy life.

Since I can’t come to a conclusion, for now I’m making no conclusion. I’m going to opt out of any crystal ball into my children’s future until the ethics of such testing becomes clear. In the meantime, I’m going to encourage my kids to live every day to the fullest. It shouldn’t take a test to remind me of that.

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