Genetic Testing: Now or Never?
Have you ever wondered if you will develop cancer, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s when you are older? Luckily for you, there are new genetic tests that allow people to know the probability of acquiring certain diseases that run in their families. While these new tests are immensely helpful to many, they put people at risk for genetic discrimination.
What is genetic testing and how can you be genetically discriminated?
Genetic testing is when scientist search for abnormalities in a person’s DNA. Geneticists have discovered several genomic markers that determine whether or not a person will develop breast cancer, Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, turcot syndrome, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s (Ang, 2001). Just because an individual has the gene, does not ensure they will get the disease. The purpose of genetic testing is to inform people of future health issues, and the likelihood of them receiving it. However, many people fear the idea of being tested, because they do not want their chances of obtaining employment opportunities or health insurance to diminish. Genetic discrimination occurs when a person uses someone else’s genetic history against them. Health insurance companies and employers ask to see an individual’s genetic history in order to determine how big of a risk someone they might become.
Why should we care?
We have nothing to lose from genetic testing, if the proper laws are passed. Why wouldn’t someone want to be prepared for future medical issues? It is understandable that some people would rather wait to find out for themselves, but there are many added risks that come with not knowing earlier. If you are well-informed about what the future holds, you can plan accordingly. You can change your diet, exercise routine, alcohol intake, smoking habits, and other life styles to prevent a certain illness. Knowing that you can possibly become sick, can also force you to finically prepare for the future. These are just some of the many benefits that are provided after getting tested. As a society, we should be enraged by genetic discrimination, because it is an issue of the right to privacy. Data shows that 3% of people are denied insurance, while 5% see price differences (Reilly 2010). Many employers and insurance companies view the action as “justified discrimination” (Otlowski, 2012). It is ethically and morally wrong for someone to be charged more, or denied even health insurance because of an illness they could possibly obtain in the nearby future (Anderlik and Rothstein, 2001).
In what ways can the issue be fixed?
The U.S. is certainly leading the world in the fight against genetic discrimination. In 2008, the U.S. government passed a law known as The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) that prohibits insurance and employment agencies to genetically discriminate. Even though this law has been in effect for eight years now, there are many exceptions that apply to it. For instance, if a person requests for a specific treatment to be covered by their health insurance company, the company has the right to ask for a genetic test to be done. This will determine whether or not they will pay for the treatment. This act does not apply to military members or federal employees. The law also fails to implement its policies for life insurance companies, long term care, and disability insurance. Another law that was passed is The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which specifically prohibits doctors and health insurance companies from sharing a patience’s medical information (Reilly, 2010). Other countries, such as Australia, are slowly starting to follow in Americas footsteps, but not fast enough. This issue has to be address globally because it affects the entire population. As humans, we have the right to privacy, and this form of discrimination infringes upon it. Have you ever wanted to live overseas? If you have, your possibilities of seeking employment, insurance, or a mortgage in a foreign country can be hindered based on your genetic data. This is due to the fact that while America has laws to prevent this from happening to you, other countries do not (Otlowski, 2012). Once genetic data is made public there is no way to make it private again, so once you move to a new country they have access to your records.
We live in a world revolving around money. People take calculated risks in order to prevent monetary loss. The reason companies value people’s genetic information is because they want to be well-educated on a potential risk. Companies want to ensure sure that they will not have to invest too much money into you. This issue is slowly resolving in America, but it is still a pressing matter in other countries. The more awareness that is brought to the issue, the faster change can happen. It important to remember that this is not just a medical issue, but an ethical issue as well. While this issue may seem minuscule, it has a significant meaning to how ethics and science go hand and hand. We must be willing to speak up for what is right and wrong, in a world were science is growing faster than ever.