Thursday, February 23, 2012

Halfway to Traumatized!

To poorly quote our professor as she was giving our class the 'please don't sue me, the school or 23andme' speech; "clicking the agree button means you are ready and willing to be traumatized." Afterwards, she explained the multiple ways we could be traumatized including but not excluded to, disease risk, carrier traits, and the big one: realizing your Dad did not actually father you. Ouch. She proceeded to give out the codes to receive a DNA kit from 23andme.

Lucky for me, I am one hundred percent positive my dad actually is my father and I generally know which diseases I'm at risk for. Those are things my parents have never really kept from me. Not to mention, we had the option to opt out and use a "Jane/John Doe" DNA sample if we did not think we could handle it. Or choose to not see the disease risk portion of our genome. Being the brave, risk-taking young adult that I am, I clicked that agree button. Bring on the trauma!

I had my kit sent to my parents house so school wouldn't question me spitting into a tube then putting it back into the box and sending it the mail. My kit arrived at my house on Tuesday night, but I couldn't get home until Wednesday. Oh boy, was my dad curious. He even had my mom email me to make sure I had really ordered it. I tried to explain that it was completely noninvasive and he would not have to see anything if he didn't want to. Not to mention, no one would see my results but me. He did not really get on board until he saw the website, which showed him all the cool things. Including where my ancestors could been possibly from. Which means, we can finally figure out just how Italian I am. Dad would like me to be more Italian than Irish from my mom's side.

Now that I am completely off topic. From what I know, all of the class has either signed up for the Jane/John Doe account or sent in their spit to be analyzed. So here we are, halfway to traumatized, waiting for our results. In the mean time, we'll try to think of something interesting to post here. I promise!


  1. Nice title, nice post! And, you bring up the important reminder that one family member's genotype can reveal things about other family members that they might not want to know -- not only paternity, but disease risk. Not something everyone remembers. I look forward to further posts!

  2. Thank you very much! It tends to be one of those things that people purposefully forget. No one wants to remember that eventually you're going to die, especially if it has to do with something as unpleasant as disease.

    1. There are numerous other ancestry-hunting horror story possibilities (nonpaternity is the most common surprise but as you correctly state, it is hard to prove with as tentative a trait-gene tool as 23andMe). Relative-finder and ancestry-finder features could uncover hidden family branches (illegitimate and adopted children), consanguinity, or ruin the cherished origin myths. Few undergrads would care but hey, the older generations folks just might not appreciate the stuff!

      So add it to the action well: how to communicate (or not communicate) with the folks about discoveries which might upset _them_ (rather than you)

    2. We actually discussed that in class to quite a length. How these types of things effect older generation much more than younger ones. The general consensus about disease risk from our class is that now that we know, we can change things. Older generations might get frightening results and then have regrets about their lives, and how they cannot make the changes we can to avoid disease. I can see how the whole idea would be much scarier to them than us.

    3. I guess just one of the 23andMe's "health results" is genuinely scary for the young women, because the risk of the disease is so much higher even early in life, and because there aren't easy ways to mitigate the risk. But the company opts you out of this "BRCA" result by default; you'd have to opt in and to heed the warnings before you can see it. Of course you've heard about this facet before, but my point may be different. The research shows that the psychological trauma of learning one's BRCA status doesn't so much depend on age, but it depends a lot on the existence of a personal action plan. If one has already decided what to do in a case of a positive result, then the trauma is minimal. But if one has not even pondered the problem yet, then it could become a major pain.

      So your relatives could be greatly upset by your disclosure of a genetic result, not just because they may be older, but more so because they are unprepared and just didn't give it enough thought yet.

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