Genetic discrimination

Misuse of genetic screening
Misuse of foetal diagnosis
Prenatal genetic testing
Intrusive genetic profiling
Risks of genetic mapping
Abuse of genetic testing by employers
The increased knowledge of human genetics may eventually lead to forms of genetic discrimination. As scientists attempt to unravel DNA sequences in order to further understand the mental and physical composition of the individual, the ability to identify each person's genetic shortcomings in advance of any detected disabilities increases. Some fear such identification may lead to discrimination in employment, academic admission and insurance benefits. Others highlight the devastating effect on people's lives of learning they have a high risk of a fatal and incurable disease. At present there are no laws, nor prospects of legislation, to address these issues.
Genetic screening for disposition to certain diseases has been common in many countries for around 30 years, beginning with the rhesus tests carried out on pregnant women to avoid stillbirths from blood incompatibility. Most babies now have a heel prick at six days to test for such genetic disorders as PKU, hypothyroidism, sickle cell anaemia and cystic fibrosis. Genetic scientists associated with the international Human Genome Project hope to "map" the approximate 100,000 genes which define an individual by the year 2003. As molecular techniques are developed, specialists suggest it will not be long before testing covers 100 different single-gene disorders.
In 1994, it was revealed by a French research team that the Apo4 gene comes in three varieties: E2, E3 and E4. The E2 gene is associated with longevity; among French centenarians, significantly higher E2 levels were found compared with a control group of adults. Version E4 was found to be significantly unlikely to be in the blood of centenarians, and this version of the gene is also linked to Alzheimer's disease. It is estimated that between 2 and 3% of people have one or two copies of the E4 gene, giving them a 45% and 90% chance, respectively, of having Alzheimer's disease by age 75.

In the mid-1980s only a handful of companies were using genetic tests. By 1996, some 5 percent of corporations in the USA were examining the genes of employees. It is believed that it will soon be possible to calaculate an individual's susceptibility to common disorders such as diabetes, ischaemic heart diseases, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis leading to further pressures from employers and insurance companies.

1. The study of human genetics should be reserved solely for the purpose of treating fatal genetic abnormalities. Genetic screening is much more troubling and much less acceptable as it moves further away from untreatable diseases in which noone survives. Society will be faced with the responsibility of how to handle this information. Further disclosure of genetic patterns will undoubtedly lead to discrimination of the "genetically disadvantaged" and eventually to human eugenics.

2. Racial groups who are concerned that they seem to have rather a large number of genetic diseases need not be concerned unless their average lifespan is less than that of other races due to genetic disease. Currently this is not known to be the case.

It is easier to correctly associate genes with diseases in an isolated or intact and closely related racial group. This makes groups such as the Icelanders, Jews and Amish highly desirable medical research subjects. When the group itself believes in supporting medical research, as is the case with the Jews, it is to be expected that more should become known about their genetically determined diseases first.

3. In the USA, notably in the future and following pressure from the insurance industry, people may lose their jobs following genetic tests indicating a predisposition to illness from which their ancestors may have suffered. Although people with a defective gene may never show symptoms of illness, their employment may be terminated as a preventive measure. Their career prospects may be destroyed.

1. Genetic discrimination is an inevitable fact of life, with or without scientific discoveries. Although such discrimination is not just, it is impossible to regulate discriminatory feelings among individuals.

2. Everyone is a mutant. We all carry dozens of scrambled genes.

3. Medical experts agree that genes do not determine our health, talents, or behavioural traits and that their contribution is as as relevant as a range of environmental factors. Safety risks can justify testing pilots for colour blindness, but the cases when predisposition to certain diseases should be relevant for an employer are extremely rare.

(D) Detailed problems