GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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Consequences of genetic discrimination too serious to ignore





  
         Consequences of genetic discrimination
         too serious to ignore

         July 23, 1997


         USA TODAY from Dialog via Individual Inc. : The news of President
Clinton's
         support of a bill to ban discrimination in health insurance based
on a person's genetic
         makeup received rightful front-page coverage in USA TODAY
(``Clinton backs bill to
         block genetic bias,'' News, Tuesday).

         The rise of genetic testing is an offspring of efforts such as the
Human Genome Project
         to ``map'' human DNA, the building block of life and wellspring of
individuality.
         Increasingly, genes that cause specific traits are being located,
and some have been used
         to deny health-care coverage. What seems to be lost in the debate,
however, are the
         consequences of assigning a genetic definition to the word ``normal.''

         In all likelihood, this will become one of the defining issues of
the next few
         generations.

         If science enables us to locate so-called ``defective'' genes, and
individuals are held
         accountable for them, three successive wrongs would likely occur:

         Since genetic makeup is determined before birth, gene-test
discrimination would hold
         people accountable for circumstances completely beyond their control.

         If society as a whole is faced with widespread genetic
discrimination, people will
         eventually demand a way to screen out all of the ``undesirable''
genes, thereby
         eliminating the very diversity that makes humans unique among
living creatures.

         If a genetic trait can be used to deny health coverage, it is a
small step to assign a
         genetic blame-factor that can be used in court to shield people
from the consequences of
         their actions. At that point, the criminal justice system and our
quality of life as a
         whole would collapse as rapes, drunken driving, murder and a host
of other social ills
         are dismissed on the basis of genetic predetermination.

         Scientific research should continue, but the cost of ignoring
genetic shortcomings in
         public policy issues is far smaller than the price of genetic
discrimination, which
         would ultimately lead to genetic manipulation, loss of social
diversity and abdication of
         personal responsibility.

         Barry B. Bannister Jr.

         Atlanta, Ga.

         [Copyright 1997, Dialog]