BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 14, 1997--To know or not to know. That is the medical question that faces some people today as the technology for DNA testing sometimes outstrips the ability to treat any disorders that may be discovered. Is it better to know and not be able to do anything about it or to be ignorant of one's predisposition for a genetic illness?
In Does It Run in the Family?, Virginia Tech Professor Doris Teichler Zallen gives people the knowledge with which to make decisions concerning genetic testing for such disorders as Alzheimer's, breast cancer, sickle-cell anemia, Huntington disease and muscular dystrophy. More and more, people are asking if there is a test to predict their risk for a disorder and whether they really want to have the test done.
In a case profiled in the book, for example, a woman called Sophie Baldwin (fictitious name used to protect her privacy) has a family history of breast cancer. Almost every female relative had died of that disease, and she is convinced she has inherited the disease. Although she is eager to be tested for breast cancer, she decides against doing so because she is afraid her insurance company might cancel her policy, raise her rates, or consider breast cancer a pre-existing condition. "Once this information gets out, there might be other people interested in it," Zallen said.
An expert in genetic technologies and bioethics in medicine, Zallen has served as a member of the NIH Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee and the Subcommittee on Human Gene Therapy. She works to develop policies and guidelines for human-genetics research and its clinical applications.
While tests are available for many disorders
and can provide information that was not available before, they
can raise new and troubling questions, said Zallen, a geneticist
and science policy expert in Science and Technology Studies at
Virginia Tech's Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. "Will
Contact: Doris Teichler Zallen