Final Resting Place
for Your DNA
March 15, 2002
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Funeral homes across the country have begun to offer clients a chance to store the DNA of deceased loved ones, a service providers say could help prevent disease in their descendants.
The DNA could help future generations determine whether they are genetically predisposed to conditions such as breast or colon cancer.
The genetic material could also be used in gene therapy, a process by which doctors would replace an existing, deficient gene in a living person with a better gene, said Bernard Naegele, president of Cincinnati-based DNA Analysis Inc.
"In another 10 to 15 years, gene therapy will be a household word," he said.
When a family requests the service, the D'Esopo Funeral Home in Connecticut collects DNA samples from the deceased. Blood and hair strands are taken and sent to DNA Analysis. The collection is free, but a family must pay $100 to have the genetic samples stored for up to 25 years.
For $350, DNA Analysis can produce a genetic profile from a sample, making it possible to run diagnostic tests. The testing itself can get pricey: A breast or colon cancer test costs about $3,000.
Naegele concedes that the DNA could possibly be used to clone relatives in the future, but is adamant that he does not advocate cloning.
"I have several families that have stored DNA with that in mind," Naegele said. "I'm only the keeper of the product."
D'Esopo does not mention cloning when talking about DNA storage to clients, said Janet Klett, director of community service for the funeral home, which has locations in Wethersfield and East Hartford.
"It's offered to them with the understanding that ... in the future they could contact the laboratory to do some diagnostic testing," Klett said.
About a dozen families have stored DNA at the laboratory through D'Esopo since the home began offering the service three months ago, Klett said.
Naegele started collecting DNA from funeral homes over a decade ago, and several hundred now use the service, he said. Lab director Thelma Villanueva said the company has stored at least 1,000 samples in the last three years.
Although DNA Analysis has been open for business since 1989, DNA collection is only starting to catch on among funeral home directors, said Lisa Carlson, executive director of the Vermont-based Funeral Consumers Alliance.
"I haven't heard consumers talk about it at all," Carlson said.
But funeral home directors are discussing the matter, and D'Esopo also is considering collecting samples from the living.
Many police departments already offer fingerprinting services for children so that parents have identification on record should it become necessary.
"We thought with this new technology, maybe the DNA would be a better profile for children," Klett said.
The idea is still in the discussion stages, she said.