Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hsieh PJM OpEd: "Should You Be Allowed to Know What's In Your DNA?"

PajamasMedia has just published my latest OpEd, "Should You Be Allowed to Know What's In Your DNA?"

My theme is that you should be free to acquire knowledge about yourself that will help you act according to your best judgment for your benefit -- in particular, by helping you treat, mitigate, or prevent bad diseases through knowledge of your own genome.

Although this piece focuses on a seemingly narrow concrete (i.e., the FDA's new restrictions on direct-to-consumer genetic testing), I attempted to use this concrete to show how apparently small regulations can have a major impact on Americans' lives -- as well using it as a springboard to discuss broader themes of free markets vs. government regulations, paternalism vs. individual responsibility, and the virtue of pursuing one's rational self-interest.

Here is the introduction:
"You can’t handle the truth!"

That's the federal government’s latest message to Americans seeking to learn the content of their own DNA.

Recent advances in biotechnology have allowed private companies to offer affordable genetic testing directly to consumers, to help them determine their risks of developing problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and various forms of cancer. In response, the U.S. government has told these companies that their tests must be approved by FDA regulators before they can be sold because, in the government's words, "consumers may make medical decisions in reliance on this information."

These restrictions thus represent a new level of government paternalism over the citizenry. In the name of "protecting" us, the government seeks to prevent willing consumers from learning medically useful information about their own bodies that could tell them which diseases they may develop -- and help them make important treatment, prevention, and lifestyle decisions...
(Read the full text of "Should You Be Allowed to Know What's In Your DNA?")