Friday, January 17, 2014

The FDA, 23andMe and the Precautionary Principle

As reported in this week’s NATURE the FDA recently ordered the genetic testing company 23and me to cease providing information about potential genetic risks to health. The FDA was essentially following the precautionary principle, citing that consumers might misinterpret such information leading to possible harm. This decision has been criticized by stating that such tests, as well as other non-physician provided health information, will ‘democratize’ health care. I think this is nonsense.

The FDA did exactly the right thing with regard to direct provision of genetic information to consumers.  Most people do not have sufficient knowledge of medical science to rationally interpret genetic testing and could potentially do themselves harm. The proponents of ready access to such testing use exactly the same ‘free market’ rationale here as in their arguments that oppose government-backed health plans in favor of a purely private health system. They ignore the fact that a free market in the health arena is essentially ‘inefficient’ since consumers to do have access to full information about services provided, costs, and consequences. 

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