Genetic Discrimination

PRESIDENT Bush has thrown his support behind an effort to pass a federal law preventing the use of genetic tests to discriminate against people.

An explosion of information about the genetic makeup of the human body has made such an antidiscrimination law more urgent than ever. Mr. Bush calls such genetic decoding "little more than medical speculation."

Already, nearly half the states have some form of a law that bars employers from not hiring or promoting someone based on genetic mapping technology that claims to predict ailments or behavior. And health or life insurers are prevented from denying coverage based on gene tests.

Bush must now lead his reluctant Republican Party, which has opposed some Democratic initiatives in this area, to craft a strong bill that includes penalties.

For anyone to demand predictive gene tests from someone is like asking a female applicant if she plans to become pregnant or an aging worker if he plans to retire soon. It denies the possibility of humans to rise above their material circumstances or to overcome medical conditions.

Large groups of people could be stigmatized based simply on predictions of risk that may not become true. And to peg someone as predisposed to illness might even cause as much harm as the illness itself.

Using the phrase "It's in the genes" is just another form of discrimination.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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