NewsFeed: "The DNA Dilemma: A Test that Could Change Your Life" by Bonnie Rochman

This morning, like so many parents, I closed the door after my children and stood at the window to watch them walk to school.

We live in an idyllic community that allows them to walk through this amazing fog together, to cut through the little path we made in the bushes between our yard and the park next door. They cross one street, pass the Methodist church and the duckpond, and are at the school doors in a handful of minutes.

And though I am not driven by fear in the wake of the Newtown, CT tragedy, I did watch them a moment longer than usual this morning. I did think about how much of my life is guided by a simultaneous desire to expose them to life's wonders and protect them from life's evils.

And then, I sat down with my coffee, my day's to-do list, and my Time magazine. In this week's Health section is the article "The DNA Dilemma: A Test that Could Change Your Life" by Bonnie Rochman. The article describes how the technology of DNA testing and genome sequencing is outpacing our abilities to process that information in the real world. It refers to one survey were "nearly all the parents said they would want to know about every disease risk, even if there's no treatment available." In another section, it offers some examples of what testing could mean for parents:
if parents learn that their child carries a gene called ApoE4, indicating a higher risk of Alzheimer's, they might discourage the child from playing youth hockey or football, since research has linked traumatic brain injuries with a greater likelihood of brain disease in people who test positive for ApoE4.
And it describes one case where parents have had testing done with the following response:
when testing revealed that some of Wojcicki's nieces and nephews are at increased risk for [macular degeneration], she bought them high-quality sunglasses. If her kids were predisposed to developing diabetes, she says, she'd encourage healthier eating. "I want to do everything I can to potentially enable my children to be disease-free."
I couldn't disagree more with these ideas if I tried. I believe it is our job to shepherd our children through the world as best we can, but it is a foolish and prideful notion to believe we can or even should protect our children from every possible exposure in this world. We must, of course, make the decisions we feel are right for our families. I will discourage youth hockey and football because of the traumatic brain injuries REGARDLESS of genetic pre-disposition for Alzheimer's. I will insist upon healthy eating because it is the best option for good health of all kinds, not only because my children might be predisposed to developing diabetes. I will protect my kids from some of the things I can realistically protect them from.

But only some. I will not screen them for genetic abnormalities that might result in dementia at age 40 that cannot be treated or prevented. I will not prohibit them from climbing trees because they might break an arm or a leg, and I will know that regardless of how much you spend on sunglasses, you cannot make kids want to wear them.

I will allow them to walk to school even though I know something terrible could happen. I will still send them to school, a school that doesn't have locked doors and a buzzer to let visitors in, because that is one of the places where they learn about people and things different from themselves and because no amount of "security" can really stop a person with mental illness and some guns. I will pray for their health and safety, but I will recognize that I am not in control.

When our cat came in bleeding from a bite Friday morning, I took it to the vet. I got the wound cleaned, got the vaccines updated, bought a year's worth of heartworm and flea preventative. I got a litter box to keep him indoors more, to attempt to avoid these kinds of injuries. But no amount of money I spend can make him want to stay inside. He wants to explore. He wants to hunt. He wants to stay up all night, and I definitely do not, so he goes back outside. And he might get eaten by a coyote, he might get hit by a car, he might decide one day that he wants to live somewhere else. That is the reality of being a pet owner.

Which is better? Spending your life (whatever life you are granted) in and out of medical testing facilities, looking for answers that may never come or standing on top of a boulder you just climbed, looking out and  away from the danger it took to get up there?

I may insist the kids wear helmets when they ride their bikes, but I will hope they let go of the handlebars.


  1. When I read articles like the one you mention here, I often get the feeling that people believe if they just try hard enough, know all the right things, and do all the right things, somehow they'll be able to avoid sickness (and death!) entirely. But it just doesn't work that way. Being aware of some risk factors seems reasonable to be, but being overly cautious can wreck your quality of life.

    1. It just doesn't work that way. You are so right, Teresa. Thanks.