Byline: JACQUELINE LAING
WITHIN a world increasingly driven by genetic engineering, the darkest imaginings of science fiction are rapidly becoming a horrifying reality.
Today it is revealed that the Government is to hold an inquiry into whether finance companies should be allowed to use genetic tests to fix the costs of an individual's insurance. As a result, people who have some genetic medical condition, or a family history of that condition, could face higher premiums or even find themselves uninsurable.
It is ironic that a Government, which continually trumpets its willingness to combat all forms of prejudice, should even be contemplating such a vile and brutal form of discrimination.
Not only is it doubtful whether present genetic technology can provide truly accurate predictions about a person's future health but, far more importantly, the philosophy behind this plan reduces human beings to little more than economic units, whose wellbeing and value to society is decided entirely by their biological makeup.
This is a repugnant form of consumerist eugenics. And it is completely counter to the morality of Christian civilisation, where individuals, no matter what their physical or mental imperfections, must be respected for their own intrinsic dignity.
Punished It is grotesque that, in the future, a person could be punished simply for who they are, not what they have done.
In the insurance market of the past, at least we had some control over the behaviour that could influence the size of our premiums. So, to reduce risks, we could give up smoking, cut down on drinking, change a dangerous or stressful job or drive more carefully.
But now our financial fate may lie, not in our actions, but in our genetic code.
The effects are likely to be devastating, since insurance is certain to play an ever more important role in a society dominated by the free market.
With the roles of both the NHS and social security undergoing retrenchment, private healthcare and income protection are becoming increasingly vital.
The same is true of so many other fields of modern consumer Britain, whether it be life assurance tied to a mortgage, or premiums to cover credit card payments. All these are bound to be affected by the drive towards a genetics-based insurance system.
Yet the science that underpins this approach is not nearly as advanced as some of its more noisy supporters would have us believe. For all the boasting of new bio-technocrats, we are still far away from a comprehensive understanding of the genetic construction of the human body.
Moreover, it is doubtful if genetics will ever provide the answers to much deeper questions about the human mind, individuality and personal responsibility.
For example, we are constantly hearing about the 'gay gene', or the 'gene for alcoholism.' In truth, such genes don't exist. What scientists are talking about is identifying a marker or genetic propensity common to some, not all, gay men or women, or alcoholics.
But locating such a marker doesn't tell us why some people display the characteristic while others don't.
Even more disturbing, in the field of medical insurance, is the supposition that there is a clear link between genes and mental disorder. As a consequence, on the say- so of biologists and psychiatrists, a large number of people may be denied basic cover because they are alleged to have a propensity towards depression, breakdown, suicide or schizophrenia. …