This is a guest post by Alice Popejoy, composed live with the help of fellow attendees of the National Science Foundation’s “Science: Becoming the Messenger” workshop as part of this previously announced competition. This post is based upon her undergraduate research done at Hamilton College; for more information about genetic information and discrimination see here.
In the X-Men movies, a few individuals have extreme genetic mutations (like the ability to fry things with one’s eyes) that change everything about how they’re treated in society. In the real world, we all have mutations in our genes that can cause adverse health effects.
And though most people don’t know it–or barely think about it–the significance of this fact in light of the health care reform debate is massive. That’s because despite the historic passage of President Obama’s healthcare reform legislation, health costs remain the responsibility of insurance companies and employers.
Why’s that worrisome? DNA is found in every cell of your body and can be legally obtained by anyone who wants it–from, say, the lip of a coffee cup. Or a desktop keyboard.
Employers and insurance companies have an incentive to find out the “flaws” in your genetic code, and use that knowledge to try to save money. For example, they may not hire you if you have a mutated gene for cancer, or heart disease. Or they may charge you higher insurance premiums.
So be on guard: If we’re not careful, we’re looking at a future right out of the movie Gattaca, in which the availability of information about genetic differences between individuals leads to direct discrimination. Say you’ve got the two mutations that cause breast cancer–BRCA-1 and BRCA-2–and you apply for a job. You could be denied because the potential employer finds out somehow and wants to save money by hiring someone else.
Right now, that’s perfectly legal. And it’s happening.
Universal health care will remove these incentives to discriminate against you, based on your genetics, to save private interests money. Maybe we need to reopen the health care debate in a very different context than the one that’s being discussed now.
So, contact your legislator. Or, remove all the DNA from your body. I guess you can imagine the more practical option.
Links to this Post
- Tweets that mention Genetic Discrimination: The Best Reason for Universal Healthcare You’ve Never Heard Of | The Intersection | Discover Magazine -- Topsy.com | November 17, 2010
- Genetic Discrimination: The Best Reason for Universal Healthcare You’ve Never Heard Of | The Intersection | Discover Magazine | DailyGenetic.info | November 17, 2010
- Vote Now for the Winning NSF Workshop Blog Post! | The Intersection | Discover Magazine | November 18, 2010
- Quick Links | A Blog Around The Clock | November 18, 2010
- And the Winner Is… | The Intersection | Discover Magazine | November 19, 2010