High street gene shop

September 29, 1995

Rifat Malik (THES, September 8), in writing on uses of DNA technology has entirely misinterpreted the background and aim of the proposed gene shop on the high street, mentioned in her article.

First, the European Community grant to Ruth Chadwick of the Centre for Professional Ethics, University of Central Lancashire, is to study three strands of research in relation to genetic disease: ethics of insurance, commercialisation and programmes for raising public awareness. The gene shop has to do with the third of these. This will be a non-commercial venture, a type of Citizen's Advice Bureau with the aim of making accurate information about genes and genetic disorders easily available. It will act as a forum for promotion of any aspect which may bear on how people may view genetic disorders and will not specifically promote any genetic testing, while it will hold information on such tests for common conditions as are available. It will concentrate on the common conditions only. To suggest that the existence of such a shop will result in tests for more and more outlandish conditions is (yes, I cannot better the adjective) simply outlandish.

Malik wants to put part of the genie of our newfound genetic knowledge back in the bottle. She seeks to separate the acceptable (pure science, historical) from genetic discoveries as they apply to human disease.

I recognise that the genie is out and that many people, including Malik, are fearful of the consequences. The gene shop may have the capacity to defuse some of the fear, while it helps those who visit the shop to form their own balanced opinions. One shop, studied carefully over a period of time (18 months) will help decide whether there will be a more widespread role for such gene shops in the future.

Maurice Super Consultant clinical geneticist, Manchester Children's Hospitals

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