The genetic information of an individual serves as a code or a sequence that leads to the expression of various characteristics, ranging from height to the type of an individual’s ear lobe. Such information can also provide insight into possible errors in the code or sequence which may or may not lead to harmful effects. This concept is probably the basis of the development of genetic testing. It is generally defined as a tool for reading the genetic information of an individual and searching for possible defects or anomalies in the sequence.
The various procedures present for genetic testing may serve either a confirmatory or a predictive tool for disease detection (National Library of Medicine [NLM], 2009). The tests screen for various genetic problems that lead to serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and certain forms of autism (Human Genome Project [HGP], 2008). With this in mind, it is easily understood why it is considered as a valuable tool in medicine. However, just like any type of information, the genetic information and genetic testing results acquired from an individual can play both a positive and a negative role.
It is evident how the genetic information of an individual can be a very important tool in medicine; however, it is not unlikely that various groups may easily use this genetic information in order to discriminate. An example would be when the genetic information and the potential diseases of a certain individual are revealed to the employer, which can be considered as negative points and might lessen the chances of the individual of getting hired (National Human Genome Research Institute [NHGRI], 2009).
The information basically informs the employer that the individual may suddenly become ill in the future, leading to a limited duration of productivity in the company. This line of thought can also be used and taken advantage of by insurance firms in terms of deciding whether to accept or reject an individual’s application for insurance (McHugh & Wright, 2003). It is clearly a matter of discrimination when an individual is judged based on what diseases he or she might develop in the future.
One should keep in mind that these diseases may or may not appear, as with various techniques in genetics; the results are mostly in terms of probability (NHGRI, 2009). Thus, the genetic information of an individual is not a fair tool to use for appraisal or evaluation in the society. In order to prevent acts of discrimination based on genetic information, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 was developed. This federal law is designed to set limits on how employers and insurance firms will handle genetic information.
Employers are no longer allowed to use genetic information as a basis for hiring and are not allowed to discriminate based on such; these are termed as unlawful under the Act. Insurance firms, on the other hand, are no longer allowed to forcibly collect genetic information from potential clients, including the client’s family members, even those who are still at the embryonic stage (Congressional Research Service, 2007). Since with this law, the release of genetic information is almost eliminated, the chances of discrimination are also reduced.
Although the law presents a certain level of protection from employers and insurance firms that take advantage and discriminate through the use of genetic information, the system is still far from being perfect. Some parts of the law present a loophole to these employers and insurance firms. In some cases, the employer is allowed to present their employee’s genetic information, which should be treated as confidential, to a health researcher or to various individuals in case of investigations.
Along with this, the employer is also allowed to collect genetic information on workers if it aims to monitor the health of the workers in an extreme working condition (Congressional Research Service, 2007). On the other hand, the insurance firms are able to escape the effects of the law if the individual is applying for either a life insurance, disability insurance, or long-term care insurance (NHGRI, 2009).
Hence, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 does act as a potent barrier to minimize the cases of discrimination based on genetic information regarding the diseases that an individual may develop. The current scope of the law is still not enough if complete protection from discrimination is desired, as obviously, there are still ways for employers or insurance firms to acquire, collect, or release genetic information which they may utilize for various purposes that can be detrimental to the individual that owns the said genetic information.
References Congressional Research Service. (2007). H. R. 493: Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 Summary. GovTrak. Retrieved March 11, 2009, from http://www. govtrack. us/congress/bill. xpd? bill=h110-493&tab=summary Human Genome Project. (2008, September 19). Gene testing. Human Genome Project Information. Retrieved March 11, 2009, from http://www. ornl. gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/medicine/genetest. shtml#testsavailable. McHugh, M & Wright, T. (2003, April). Genetic testing, insurance, and health policy.
Case Western Reserve University. Retrieved March 11, 2009, from http://www. cwru. edu/med/epidbio/mphp439/Genetic_Testing. htm. National Human Genome Research Institute. (2009, January 9). Genetic Discrimination Fact Sheet: Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008. Retrieved March 11, 2009 from http://www. genome. gov/10002328#1. National Library of Medicine. (2009, March 6). Handbook: Help me understand genetics. Genetics Home Reference. Retrieved March 11, 2009, from http://ghr. nlm. nih. gov/handbook. pdf.