When my partner and I got serious about marriage, I told him about the history of genetic heart disease on my mother’s side of my family. My maternal grandfather passed away in his sixties, and my mother’s sister suddenly died in her forties due to their heart conditions. Two of my mother’s brothers have coronary stents to aid blood flow throughout their bodies, and nearly everyone else in my mother’s family has high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol.
While genetic testing can give us access to important information about prevention and treatment, testing does not guarantee a correct diagnosis.ableist
My partner then disclosed to me the history of prostate issues and stomach cancer on his father’s side of the family. We both wondered then if we should get genetic testing done for future diseases because of the serious conditions that exist in our families.
Now, we are married, and completely undecided about whether we want genetic testing. Would we be playing with fate if we got tested? Would we spend the rest of our lives waiting and fearing for our health to deteriorate because a genetic test determined we have the gene for a specific disease? Would this impact our decision to have children biologically related to us? Isn’t it better to be in the dark about something that may or may never happen? Or is it better to be prepared?
Here’s a fact: Genetic testing for future disease has its limitations. A positive result for a certain gene sequence in a disease does not always mean you will have that disease. Likewise, a negative result does not mean you will not have that disease. While genetic testing can give us access to important information about prevention and treatment for the future, testing does not guarantee a correct diagnosis. Keep in mind that environmental factors, like diet, exercise, and air quality, play a large part on our overall health too.
However, you and your partner definitely have the right to ask each other to undergo genetic testing. Considering my family history, I would understand entirely if my husband asked me to get tested for heart disease and anything related to it.
Do you deserve to know unequivocally through genetic testing whether or not your partner will definitely have a serious illness in the future that will impact your relationship?
In turn, he would also understand if I asked him to get tested for his family health history. Still, this consideration brings into question whether it is ethical to base a long-term relationship on the results of genetic testing for disease.
Of course, many would deem it unethical to even consider ending a committed, monogamous relationship based on the likelihood of your partner getting a serious illness in the future.
When I asked Evelyn Pehowic, who is now engaged-to-be-married to her partner of three years, she said, “I think I have the right to ask [my partner] to get tested… but in return that gives him the right to say he doesn’t want it done. I don’t think I could ever tell him I want him to get tested, find out he’s tested positive for a future disease, and I decide I no longer want to be with him.”
Evelyn brings up an interesting point when she says her partner has the right to refuse testing. If one is adamant about getting tested, the other has the right to be adamant about not getting tested. Do you deserve to know unequivocally through genetic testing (although genetic testing will not always give you indisputable results) whether or not your partner will definitely (or be highly likely to) have a serious illness in the future that will impact your relationship?
I say no. Nobody deserves to know such things; rather, it is a privilege given to partners by each other through consent (granted you also have the medical access to have such testing done).
Let’s be honest: This kind of information, no matter what, will impact your view of your partner and your future together. I am not saying you shouldn’t get genetic testing; you can as long as the decision is a mutual agreement based on consent.
If one is adamant about getting tested, the other has the right to be adamant about not getting tested.
I am saying, however, that such information may change how you live your life and so, this kind of decision should be taken extremely seriously.
Lovie Dhanjal said about her partner of four years: “I personally wouldn’t ask my partner to do that, because if a disease or illness arises, we can tackle it together at that time. I would rather not freak out about what is in his DNA and wait for it to happen if it even happens.”
For me and my partner, sometimes genetic testing for future disease feels as if we would be testing fate. Sometimes it seems like a good idea to be prepared. But here’s the one thing we know for sure: This is knowledge that has the potential to change our lives for the worse, and we aren’t sure we want that. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.