My kids wanted their ancestry DNA done, but I said no

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK 

A few years ago I had my DNA tested by one of the most popular providers worldwide, who offer ancestry information in return. It's an increasingly popular test that's gaining traction everywhere as curious people embark on journeys of belonging and identity.

You order a test, spit into a tube and send it off to be tested. Some weeks later you receive an email about where your ancestors of the last 1000 years or so are from. Simple and fun, no?

For me then, it was a lighthearted search for my roots. Having been born in Australia to an Australian mum with UK ancestry and an English father, I was pretty confident that I was going turn up a native of the UK, and sure enough, I'm 88 per cent British with a smattering of Viking.

There's no doubt that the DNA testing now available is an exciting way people can find out about their genetic roots. I did it out of sheer curiosity, and probably a need to feel a sense of belonging somewhere. I've always been keenly aware of being an interloper here; the ancestral land of Australia's indigenous people.

While my DNA results held no real surprises, I found that plugging in my raw data on other sites turned up some pretty amazing things about my likes, dislikes, health profile and also my personality. 

All this time as I expressed delight and insatiable interest in my results, my children were watching. And of course they became fascinated with it all and instantly wanted to have their own tests done. I said I would think about it, but in the end the answer was a resounding "no". Now that I'm a few years down the track, I also see that I could have been a little more cautious myself.

Here's why my children won't be getting their own DNA tests until they are adults.

1. DNA testing is still in its infancy

And the ramifications of companies having that information is still unclear. So while they have my DNA, they do not yet have the ability to fully sequence it affordably. 

But that day will come and that company (with my permission) has reserved the right to filter my DNA to other parties forever pretty much. Which leads me to the next point.

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2. My kids have up to 80 years left

My life is most probably half over, whereas my kids have their entire lives ahead of them. I don't tend to get too fanciful about things, but I am concerned that a Gattaca-style future could occur where people are excluded from jobs and activities based on their DNA profiles.

3. Why would I willingly hand my children's DNA over when there's no good reason to?

I have my results, my husband has his. So my children's DNA will be a blend of his and mine, obviously and will probably tend to be skewed towards one of us. There simply isn't anything extra to learn, plus the company already has a good chunk of my children's DNA because they have ours.

4. Consent

While my kids imagine they are giving their consent, they really aren't old enough to do that, even in their teens. The minimum age for a test is 13, but only because of US law about collecting data on people under this age, and despite this, I know people who have successfully tested their children.

It's my job to navigate potentially ethically-shady areas for them, and yes, sometimes with them. But my answer is still "no" on this one. When they are adults they can make the decision to do the DNA test.

Lastly...

Did the test deliver the sense of belonging I was hoping for? No it didn't. It only confirmed what I already knew.

And after all that, I still feel Australian and want to live out my days here. The only way I feel at all British is that at Christmas time I am indignant about the heat. It should be cold.

Except now a large company has my DNA data and by default, a large portion of my children's, and the consequences of that are yet to be seen.