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Eur J Hum Genet. 2017 Nov;25(11):1189-1194. doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2017.126. Epub 2017 Aug 23.

Third party interpretation of raw genetic data: an ethical exploration.

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Department of Genetics, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.


In the wake of recent regulations targeting direct-to-consumer genetic testing (DTC-GT), an increasing number of websites have emerged that offer consumers alternative means to derive health information from their DTC-GT raw data. While the ethical concerns associated with DTC-GT have been extensively discussed in the literature, the implications of third party interpretation (TPI) websites have remained largely unexplored. Here we sought to describe these services and elucidate their ethical implications in the context of the current DTC-GT debate. We reviewed five popular TPI websites that use SNP-based genomic data to report health-related information: Promethease, Interpretome, LiveWello,, and Enlis Personal. We found that many of the ethical concerns previously described in DTC-GT also applied to TPI websites, including inadequate informed consent, questionable clinical validity and utility, and lack of medical supervision. However, some concerns about data usage and privacy reported in DTC-GT were less prominent in the five TPI websites we studied: none of them sold or shared user data, and 3/5 sites did not retain data in the long term. In addition, while exaggerated claims and inaccurate advertising have been frequently problematic in DTC-GT, advertising was minimal in the TPI sites we assessed, and 4/5 made no claims of health benefits. Overall, TPI adds a new dimension to the ethical debate surrounding DTC-GT, and awareness of these services will become increasingly important as personal genomics continues to expand. This study constitutes the first detailed ethical analysis of these services, and presents a starting point for further research and ethical reflection.

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