Questions About Booking a
LAVIN Keynote Speaker?
1 800 265 4870
The Lavin Blog
Think Long & Hard Before Peeking Into Your Genetic Future: Arthur Caplan
Science | March 12, 2013

Think Long & Hard Before Peeking Into Your Genetic Future: Arthur Caplan

"Would you want to know your future if science could tell it to you?" Science and bioethics speaker Arthur Caplan posed this question in a new opinion piece on CNN—and it's one with a fairly complicated answer. Genetic testing, he says, can give you insight into what your genes hold in store for your health. But just because you can find out if you are at risk of developing a life-threatening disease, do you want to? While using scientific tests as a crystal ball to peer into your future may seem like a proactive way to keep your health in check, Caplan warns that you might not like what you find. Or, even worse, you may misinterpret what you find. Thus, sending yourself in a frantic worry despite there only being a chance that your genes have definitely sealed your fate.

"Remember that genetic testing is still in its infancy," Caplan cautions. "[It] is about risk and probabilities—and the future is shaped by your genes and your lifestyle." While the presence of some genes may be a nearly foolproof indicator that you will get a disease, there are other genes that only raise your risk by 5 per cent. Not to mention, the quality of lab testing today is far from perfect—and the results may mean different things for different people. That's why Caplan suggests having a genetic counselor on hand when people receive these kind of results. They can help guide you through the implications of the results, and determine the best course of action to take. Despite the fact that a new study suggests most people are capable of learning about their risk of receiving or transmitting breast cancer without being traumatized, Caplan still believes it's worthwhile to have some sort of counseling available. Finally, he also worries that a lack of privacy could allow your personal genetic information to fall into unwanted hands.

"Genetic testing is a very useful new tool for helping us stay healthy," he concludes. "But doctors, counselors and even legislators need to get involved so that genetic knowledge can be properly understood and kept private." Caplan's insights on bioethics and health care reform are highly regarded and regularly cited in major media. Currently, he is the head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU's Langone Medical Center. He is also the author or editor of over thirty books and 550 papers on the subject. In his talks, he addresses the monumental societal and technological changes occurring every day—and how we have to alter our health care practices to reflect these shifts.
Sign up for our e-newsletter * Required
First Name *
Last Name *
Email *
I'm Interested In *