This paper is a critical essay concerning an article on DNA tests and their use for finding distant relatives. The author, Robert Imbeault, supplies his story of how a DNA test he took to determine his national lineage led to him finding a half-sibling that he never knew. He uses the story to promote the idea that people should take DNA tests more often and allow the information to be public so that they can search for relatives. However, there are several concerns with the idea, and the maintenance of one’s privacy may be considered more important than having such encounters. Overall, the author’s evidence is anecdotal and does not make the inaccuracy of ancestry DNA testing or the potential issues that can arise from having one’s DNA in open access into account.
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The article is a story of how the author decided to take a DNA out of curiosity to confirm his national identity. Sometime later, a woman named Julie contacted him, claiming that the similarity between their DNA suggested they might have been cousins. Imbeault (2019) then had “a disquieting moment of considering the lack of privacy […] which is something I must have unwittingly agreed to when I accepted the website’s terms and conditions” (para. 3). However, he read on and learned that the author might have been his half-sister. The author’s parents confirmed that such a relationship might have been possible, and the two confirmed their half-sibling status with another test. They then met in person and ultimately formed a loving sibling relationship over the year.
The author claims that his “baseline for happiness has risen” (Imbeault, 2018, para. 13) and implies that others may benefit from similar situations, as well. However, his story may be seen as an outlier, as both he and his sibling were raised happily in good families. Koerner (2015) discusses a story where an innocent man was accused of a crime and subjected to a month-long investigation due to a partial DNA match with a crime suspect.
The police began to suspect him after running a familial DNA search, which matched the sample the man’s father had donated to a genealogy project long ago. Overall, the author does not provide a sufficiently convincing argument for keeping one’s DNA public but implicitly endorses it. His initial concerns about privacy and its violation through obscure terms and services documents are justified, regardless of the outcome.
The second issue with the story is that the author is lucky to have discovered a person who had similar DNA and was his relative. The DNA of siblings may sometimes be significantly different, and that of strangers may appear similar.
As Rutherford (2018) notes, the standards of many companies are low enough to produce enormous failures occasionally. Moreover, many people are not aware of this trend, and close relatives having significantly different DNA can create family tensions. Similarly, faulty DNA test results may be seen as an implication of unfaithfulness in a relationship (Hall, 2001). Overall, DNA comparisons between strangers can create a variety of complications that outweigh the potential benefits.
In conclusion, Imbeault’s (2019) story is a description of a highly unlikely coincidence that will rarely repeat itself. He focuses on his example and omits the accuracy issues while only mentioning privacy concerns in passing. These complications can lead to a less happy conclusion than the author’s, both within the family and beyond it. Moreover, the public availability of one’s DNA results is a significant privacy concern, one that Imbeault (2019) mentions only in passing. In the end, his narrative is not convincing, and the story is closer to a personal experience of an extraordinary event rather than a viable argument for publicly revealing one’s DNA and using it to find potential relatives.
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Hall, M. (2001). False DNA test led the father to reject daughter. The Telegraph. Web.
Imbeault, R. (2019). Just like that, I was a little brother: An online DNA test introduced me to a family connection I never would have expected, Robert Imbeault writes. The Globe and Mail. Web.
Koerner, B. I. (2015). Your relative’s DNA could turn you into a suspect. Wired. Web.
Rutherford, A. (2018). How accurate are online DNA tests? Scientific American. Web.