Marchant discusses ethics of having your own genetic code

ASU Regents’ Professor Gary Marchant, Faculty Director of the College of Law’s Center for Law, Science & Innovation, appeared on Eight, Arizona PBS' "Horizon," March 28, to explore the ethical and moral dilemmas people face when they have access to their own genome sequences.

Marchant said that genome sequences can tell individuals “little bits at a time” about their health.

“We’re still at a very early stage with this technology,” Marchant said.

He said there are some genetic tests, such as the one for breast cancer, that are very important for your health. However, others such as the Alzheimer’s gene test, are more problematic because they give information on a person’s chances for contracting a disease for which there is no cure. Marchant said the question is, “do you want to know that?”

“I’ve been genetically tested. I want to know, but I know people who don’t want to know,” Marchant said.

In terms of what other people could learn about an individual’s health, such as employers and health insurance carriers, “it get’s a little more scary,” Marchant said.

“There are statutes that protect employers and health insurers from getting that information,” he said. “But there’s nothing to stop anybody from taking my cup, bringing it to a lab, getting it tested and finding out what they want about me.”

Marchant said this could have consequences for politicians, athletes and other celebrities.

Marchant said genetic testing also may have ramifications in the legal field. There are cases where doctors have been sued for not disclosing genetic information to the patient’s family members because the patient doesn’t want them to know. Some legal decisions say that the doctor has the duty to go around their patients and talk to the relatives, Marchant said.

To watch the video, click here.

Marchant, ASU Lincoln Professor of Emerging Technologies, Law and Ethics, frequently lectures about the intersection of law and science at national and international conferences. He has authored more than 60 articles and book chapters on various issues relating to emerging technologies. Among other activities, he has served on two National Research Council committees, has been the principal investigator on several major grants, and has organized numerous academic conferences on law and science issues.