Genetic Testing And Discrimination

DNA model.Genetic testing is the use of recombinant DNA technology to obtain information about a person's genome. The first genetic tests were conducted during the 1960s for the disease phenylketonuria (PKU). Individuals with PKU do not metabolize an amino acid called phenylalanine, which accumulates in the blood and tissues, causing brain damage. A genetic test detects PKU at birth. If the child is put on a special diet, the worst consequences of the disease (mental retardation, seizures, autistic-like behavior and a peculiar body odor) can be prevented.

New genetic techniques have been used to map diseases to specific locations in the genome and thus can be used to determine if an individual carries an altered gene responsible for some disease. These techniques have been applied to diseases like cystic fibrosis, Duchene muscular dystrophy, and Huntington's disease. However, social issues arise because genetic tests allow geneticists to diagnose a disease even when the person has no symptoms. This could lead to genetic discrimination.

Genetic discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently, not for having a disease, but for having a gene that might (or might not) cause the person to show symptoms of a disease in the future. This type of discrimination is usually associated with health/life insurance and employment. For example, if an insurance company can tell from your genes that you are at greater risk for a heart attack, they could charge you more for your policy or even deny coverage; if an employer knows this information, he or she could deny employment because of this risk.

About the Author

Diego Pineda

Diego PinedaDiego holds a master's degree in science and technology journalism from Texas A&M University and work as a science writer for Immunizations for the Public Health (I4PH), a Texas-based nonprofit corporation that provides information services on vaccines and immunizations. He enjoys writing about genetics, bioethics, and physics -- both in English or Spanish.