By LESLEY GREGORY
DNA testing used to be something distant and scientific that cropped up in TV crime series like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation or in family dramas where a child’s parentage was in doubt. Today it’s perfectly easy, and relatively cheap, to send away for a kit to check out our own genetic makeup.
You might think about doing this because you want to know more about your family background, having binge watched a programme like Who Do You Think You Are? Or perhaps you’re curious to know whether you have the gene for certain diseases or conditions.
Exploring your family history is usually a benign activity, unless it uncovers an unsettling family secret. But digging into the health aspects of your genome just because you’re curious — rather than for clinical reasons, under the advice of a doctor — could be ill advised.
That’s not just because there have been doubts in the past over the reliability of commercially marketed testing, or because the psychological and medical impact of a worrying finding is better handled when the testing is with the knowledge of your doctor. It’s also because such tests can have consequences for you as a consumer of life insurance products such as death, trauma and income protection.
The question to consider before undertaking a medically focused (but optional) genetics test is whether you’d have to disclose the results in any future life insurance application.
This is especially important if you’re younger and haven’t yet taken out such cover. When you do decide to apply for this sort of insurance, the insurer will ask a range of questions aimed at assessing the degree of likelihood they’ll have to pay out in the future.
One question will be about pre-existing conditions. Another may be the catch-all ‘anything else we should know about’ question that insurers ask as they decide who and what they’ll cover. Your ‘duty of disclosure’ could mean you have to share the results of your genetics test at the time of application, or whenever you change your contract.
If the testing has shown you have the potential to develop a particular disease or condition, the insurer may decide to charge you a higher premium because you’re a higher risk.
The rules differ depending on where you live, with some countries banning or restricting life insurers’ use of genetic results but others still permitting it. So, ask these questions of your insurer or local consumer agency before you go ahead with a genetic test:
- I may apply for a life insurance product one day. Will I be legally required to disclose all genetic test results to the insurer?
- I already have life insurance. In what circumstances would I be required to disclose new genetic test results – for example, if I wanted to increase my cover?
- I already have life insurance. Is it ‘guaranteed renewable’ — that is, once I’m covered the insurer can’t change the contract just because of new information?
Never be deterred from taking a test your doctor advises is necessary. But if it’s just curiosity getting the better of you, make sure you’re fully informed about the potential financial impact of sending off for a DIY genetics kit.
LESLEY GREGORY is a vastly experienced consumer and personal finance journalist. She writes regularly for TEBI on areas that aren’t directly related to investing. Here are some other recent articles of hers that you may have missed: