Genetic Testing for Kids Gaining in Popularity, but Pediatricians Are Concerned

Filed under: In The News, Health

genetic testing for kids

Some parents are now subjecting their children to genetic testing. Credit: Getty Images

Want to ask the Oracle at Delphi what fate has in store for your child?

Ask Oepidus' parents. A vague peek at the future only makes you do strange and paranoid things you'll probably regret later.

The tale of Oedipus is some 2,440 years old, but pediatricians fear the moral of the story continues to fly over parents' heads. Those fears are confirmed by a new study that shows a growing number of parents want the oracle to tell them their children's risk of adult diseases.

Being fresh out of oracles, however, parents subject their children to genetic testing.

The tests give a vague prediction of a child's odds of getting various forms of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and male-pattern baldness.

The British Broadcasting Corporation reports that pediatricians warn genetic testing does not provide a precise blueprint for a child's destiny. More often than not, they tell the BBC, it simply leads to paranoia and unnecessary worrying.

Nonetheless, the BBC reports, a study of more than 200 parents reveals they generally believe the benefits of pediatric genetic testing outweigh the risks and express at least moderate interest in testing.

Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., tell the BBC pediatricians should be aware of this so they are able to respond appropriately to parents. As genetic testing becomes more popular, lead researcher Kenneth Tercyak tells the BBC, there's much parents ought to realize.

"These tests usually don't offer a clean bill of health and can be hard to interpret even in the best scenario," he tells the network.

The British organization Genewatch focuses on ethics as they relate to genetics. Its leaders take the position that children should never be genetically tested for adult conditions.

"Online gene tests frequently give misleading results because most common conditions such as cancer, obesity or diabetes are not predicable from a person's genes, except in special circumstances," Helen Wallace, a spokesperson for Greenwatch, tells the BBC. "Children should not be tested for risk of adult-onset conditions, full stop. They should be allowed to decide for themselves, with medical advice, when they are grown up."

Tercyak tells the BBC lawmakers in Great Britain and the United States should consider children when regulating genetic tests -- increasingly available outside professional medical oversight.

"We would have concerns about genetic testing being widely available over the Internet or off the shelf because parents could find out results without a health professional to help interpret them," Vivienne Nathanson, director of the British Medical Association's Professional Activities, tells the BBC. "They may also find out about genetic abnormalities for which there are no cures, or be caused needless worry."

So seek not the Oracle at Delphi. Heed instead the wisdom of that profoundest of seers, Doris Day: "Que sera sera! What ever will be will be. The future's not ours to see. Que sera sera!"

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