Beneath the Skin

geneticsWhen I was just two days old, I was adopted by my family. The story my parents received was that my biological mother and father were divorcing.  Since they already had a son and a daughter together, she felt she couldn’t handle another child as a single parent, so a lawyer arranged a private adoption.

When I was around eleven or twelve, my parents called me in from playing with my friends, asked me to sit down and dropped the news on me.  I’m not sure what they expected, but it certainly wasn’t “Okay, can I go back outside?”

I’ve never had the torment of thinking my parents lied to me or agonized over being with the “wrong” family.  Its pretty much a non-issue as far as I’m concerned.  In this matter at least, I’m well-adjusted.

How it affects my life emerges when it comes to visiting doctors.  They always have huge sections of the medical history forms devoted to family/genetic conditions and illnesses.  While its wonderful to simply write N/A and explain I was adopted, it does leave gaping holes that sometimes aren’t easy to fill.  The only information my parents were given about my biological mother was that she was healthy at the time of my birth.

Though I do have a mild curiosity about my birth mother and older siblings, I’m more interesting in my familial medical history.  Especially now that I’m growing older and reaching the ages that so many of these types of illnesses begin to present themselves.  It would also be useful information for my son’s future medical history.

I’ve been considering looking into genetic testing.  One of the mail-in companies will not only test for any genetic vulnerabilities I may be predisposed towards, but also my ancestral composition as well.  Its relatively inexpensive and if it does illuminate the possibility of something serious, it will give a basis for further, more accurate testing by a physician or at least foreknowledge.

In researching the topic, I’ve seen a lot of debate against this kind of testing.  Among the many reasons, only one applies to my specific situation.  The possibility of my medical insurance carrier raising my rates, simply because of the possible genetic predisposition towards specific illnesses.  I’ve seen many opinions about the “ethicality” (I may have made that word up) of this sort of thing, but no confirmation of any laws against it.  It also raises the question in my mind that if you don’t divulge the knowledge you may be a candidate for a disease, then become symptomatic, can the insurance then sue you for fraud or deny coverage?  (I used to work in the medical insurance field so I know the thinking of the corporate heads that goes on behind the scenes).

I haven’t made a decision yet.  It would be great to be able to join in conversations when others are discussing their ancestry.  It would definitely be helpful to be able to clue in my physicians about my medical heredity.  But I’m still a little tentative, at least until the law catches up with technology in this area and there are definitive rules in place about what is and isn’t allowed.  I’d love to hear from anyone that’s used this type of testing and how trustworthy you found the results.

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  1. Judith Land

    “What you learn about your family medical heritage could save your life. Our genes carry unbelievable information of our family medical history. Despite the increasing emphasis on diagnostic technology, many physicians perceive the medical history as the preeminent source of information with a much higher value in diagnosis than either the physical examination or laboratory and radiography information.” —Judith Land, author & adoptee

    Family Medical History—gathering a complete and accurate family medical history is extremely important as genetic medicine explains more diseases. The Surgeon General has named Thanksgiving as Family History Day. When family members gather together on Thanksgiving Day, it’s a great opportunity to talk to family members and learn more about their health history.

  2. Lance

    my cousin, who is my age and we were raised like brother and sister, she’s my best friend, now, is adopted.

    she’s never wanted to find out who her birth parents were. she thought about it about 10 years ago, but didn’t pursue it. Her mom, adopted mom, died last year. This cemented her lack of want to ever find out. I asked her this question about diseases and blood types and she said “whatever I have and whatever I get, so be it. I don’t care”.

    I wouldn’t want to know, either. But that’s just us.

    • Dream

      I wish I was able to have that kind of attitude. Its either curiosity or my need to be in control that’s fueling this idea. Plus my two recent cancer scares (I only wrote about one of them), gives me a new perspective.

  3. Judith Land

    Kissing cousins? Icelandic app warns if your date is a relative. Iceland is a small country and the risk of dating relatives is an embarrassing problem in this tiny country. A new smartphone app is on hand to help Icelanders avoid accidental incest. The app lets users “bump” phones, and emits a warning alarm if they are closely related. “Bump the app before you bump in bed,” says the catchy slogan.