Book Review: Genomic Messages
How the New Science of Genetics Affects Our Health, Families, and Future
By George Annas, JD, and Sherman Elias, MD
Imagine a future where humans merge with machines and manufactured beings are immune to diseases. These Brave New World-ish scenarios may seem far-fetched, but they’re grounded in real concerns about autonomy and ethics. In Genomic Messages, George Annas, JD, and Sherman Elias, MD, explore how groundbreaking advancements in genetics apply to individual health care—and how they’re reshaping our sense of self.
Their central question—“How can we maximize the good that modern medicine can do while minimizing the potential harm?”—is both fascinating and frightening. Should you get tested for the BRCA gene like Angelina Jolie if you have a family history of cancer? How reliable is the prenatal diagnosis of genetic diseases? The real issue, suggest the authors, is not can we get personalized genetic information, but how we’ll make tough choices once we have it. By examining the intersection of medicine, law, and ethics, this book illuminates the paradox of genetic innovation: The more we know about our own genes, the more uncertainty we may live with.
Weaving case studies and layman-friendly medical explanations, Genomic Messages explores the theme of control—over our health, our bodies, and even DNA itself (think frozen embryos and gene splicing). What’s more, genomics has startling implications for privacy and consent, as “big DNA banks” may patent DNA or use it for commercial purposes. Readers shouldn’t be intimidated by the lofty concepts or multisyllabic genetics jargon, though. With nods to the futuristic work of Margaret Atwood, Susan Sontag, and Kurt Vonnegut, plus an “Octomom” reference, this is a book about more than genomics. It’s a meditation on ownership, choice, and ultimately, what it means to be human.