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23andme Stealing Our Genes

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Dylan Scott

Instructor Kade

RWS 200

9 February 2017

23andMe Stealing Our Genes

        Many of us never wonder why it is that we sneeze when we look at the sun, or why only half of your Spanish classmates can roll their R’s. Those who did question these odd occurrences eventually attributed them to our one of a kind genome. In fact, much more can be determined from your genome. Are you predisposed to heart disease? Do you have a high risk of low blood pressure? Well due to modern genetic science, 23andMe will tell you for a small price of $99! But as Science Magazine’s Charles Seife warns, your genome could be making 23andMe more than your measly $99. In fact, they may very well be selling your unique genome to medical companies, insurance companies, or anyone else with an interest in your genetics. In the article “23andMe is Terrifying, but Not for the Reasons the FDA Thinks”, Seife writes an exposé piece attacking the noncompliance of 23andMe in regards to the FDA’s warning to stop selling the genome test. The purpose of this piece is to warn the people of the suspicious practices of 23andMe and the ethical issues surrounding them. Seife writes to the readers of Science Magazine, and uses logos and ethos methods to gain attention for this ethical issue. In this essay I will highlight some of the claims Seife makes, as well as the strategies he employs to build an argument.

        Many people wouldn’t even ponder their genomes being stolen or violated, but this is what Seife says is happening. His first major claim is that 23andMe is a data collection service disguised as a medical practice. “The Personal Genome Service isn’t primarily intended to be a medical device. It is a mechanism meant to be a front end for a massive information-gathering operation against an unwitting public” (Seife). By incorporating the ethos appeal, Seife calls on the moral injustice that is felt when someone is scammed. This “information-gathering operation” has absolutely no ethical code, and readers will notice this and strongly oppose the practice. Calling on the morality of the readers is very effective, and loss of privacy is a very current issue in America as well as globally. The claim that 23andMe is collecting your information is Seife’s main argument, but with it, Seife must discuss what they plan to do with your information.

        Once your genome is in their hands, Seife claims, 23andMe will follow Google and other companies and sell your personal information. “The company has explicitly stated that its database-sifting scientific work “does not constitute research on human subjects,” meaning that it is not subject to the rules and regulations that are supposed to protect experimental subjects’ privacy and welfare” (Seife). Here the author calls on his reader’s logic by using the logos appeal. If 23andMe is not subject to protecting its clients’ privacy, would they turn down a monetary offer for your information? Chances are, they won’t. While this claim isn’t as steadfast as his first, Seife still makes a good point. Even without evidence of information selling, one would be naive in the modern day to assume our information is safe in the hands of a corporation. This logos appeal is pretty effective as long as readers have a sense of logic and skepticism towards healthcare ethics. However, without much solid evidence, some readers might not buy the claim. 

        At this point in Seife’s attack on 23andMe, one might think simply avoiding the genome test means you would be safe. However, Seife claims that your relatives could give the company most of what it needs to construct your genome. “If you have several close relatives who are already in 23andMe’s database, the company already essentially has all that it needs to know about you” (Seife). This in a way can be considered the pathos appeal employed from Seife. When relatives donate their genome, yours is being built right along with them. By bringing the readers’ families into the matter, Seife hopes to spark more concern from his audience. Chances are some readers even know a close relative that has been tested. By calling on the readers’ emotions and literally bringing their family into the issue, Seife effectively uses pathos to back up his claim. 

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