CAN YOUR GENETIC INFORMATION BE USED AGAINST YOU?
In the United States, a relatively recent law called GINA, for Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, prevents discrimination on the basis of genetic information for health insurance and employment. This law has limitations, however, and does not protect individuals from discrimination based on their DNA sequence with regards to life and long-term disability insurance. Most other advanced countries have a minimum level of socialized health care and thus have guaranteed access to many basic services. In such countries, discrimination is less of a concern, at least from a financial perspective.
Whether genetic discrimination in health care, employment, or social arenas actually occurs in practice remains to be seen—the field is young and relatively few people have had genetic testing. We are not aware that any major acts of discrimination have occurred strictly based on genome sequence. It is possible, however, that people with high-risk alleles for certain diseases could be viewed and treated differently. For example, knowing that someone is at risk for Alzheimer’s might cause people to assume that they are more forgetful, especially as they get older. Although such circumstances will likely arise, it is worth noting that (a) everyone is at risk for at least some diseases—the perfect genome does not exist; and (b) people provide their family histories as part of routine medical care, and this type of information is already available for use by insurance companies. Thus, we could all be subjected to some discrimination. Unfortunately, personal discrimination presently occurs on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Perhaps DNA will be added to the list.