Thinking of giving the gift of a genetic testing kit in 2020?  A test that reveals secrets held in your DNA about your ancestry, family history, and your health may seem like a thoughtful and exciting gift. But before you invest, experts recommend you consider the pros and cons.

Dr. Nicole Umberger, Technical Director of Molecular Pathology for LifeBrite Laboratories, says there are unforeseen emotional risks and complications even when it comes to something as seemingly innocent as ancestry testing.

Moreover, it’s essential to understand the privacy risk and how it could impact insurance coverage and other issues. Also, tests vary in terms of reliability, which means someone could get bad news that is also erroneous or falsely reassuring news.

But it can be “a great way for someone to learn more about themselves and be proactive in their healthcare,” Umberger added. “Maybe the gift-ee has expressed interest in genetic testing but can’t afford it, or their insurance won’t cover the test even though they could benefit.”

Here are some things to consider if you plan to gift a DNA test for your loved ones in 2020.

DNA test surprises 

In the age of technology, most people tend to believe that more information is better. But sometimes, that’s not the case, says Umberger.

“There are multiple cases of individuals opening Pandora’s box after an ancestry test,” said Umberger. For example, consider the impact if a person takes the test and learns he or she is a 1/4 match with a potential relative they don’t know. The test comments suggest this relative could be a cousin. But eventually, the tested individual discovers his or her father had an affair. 

Then the father ends up getting a divorce.

“That’s a lot to handle when you just wanted to know if you had ancestors from the Iberian peninsula,” Umberger said.

Also, some tests can tell you if you are predisposed to health conditions like Alzheimer’s or breast cancer. Consider whether the person receiving the gits wants to get that kind of information. Not everyone can handle the emotional consequences.

What to look for in a DNA test kit

If you decide to buy an at-home DNA testing kit, here are a few things to look for, according to LifeBrite’s Umberger.

  • Well-established clinical validity (the results have meaning for their intended purpose). Steer clear of tests that promise insight on your best diet, what sports you should try, or other questionable advice. 
  • Compliance with CLIA regulations. The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) regulate laboratory testing and require laboratories to be certified in their state and by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) before they can accept human samples for diagnostic testing. 
  • Transparency and a clear understanding of the benefits and limitations of the test results.

You can also visit the Genetics Home Reference site for more information.

Privacy concerns

Before buying a kit to give to a friend or family member, it’s essential to review the testing company’s privacy and security policy. The National Society of Genetic Counselors advises you ask:

  • What the company plans to do with genetic information, now and in the future.
  • Whether the company plans to share genetic information with pharmaceutical or biotechnology firms, researchers, non-profit groups, or public or private DNA databases.
  • Whether the company will notify clients if its policies change, or if genetic information is shared.

“The biggest concern is consent, and that includes a full understanding of the benefits, risks, and limitations of the test,” said Umberger. “The test results should only be accessible by the person being tested ( the person buying the test should NOT have access to results).”

Another potential concern: impact of test results on insurance eligibility. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prevents health insurance companies and employers from using genetic information against someone, but, in many states, that does not apply to long-term care or life insurance.

“Not all genetic tests have the potential to risk someone’s eligibility, so it’s critical to understand which genes might,” Umberger said.

Above all, Umberger suggests you know whether the person wants genetic testing.

“Talk to the gift-ee first and ask if they’d like this kind of gift. Share where you would get the test from, why you want to get it, and that ‘no’ is an acceptable answer,” Umberger said.

Atlanta-based LifeBrite, led by CEO Christian Fletcher, operates LifeBrite Hospital Group, LifeBrite Community Hospital of Early, and LifeBrite Community Hospital of Stokes. To learn more about LifeBrite Laboratories, visit our homepage.