Encyclopedia of Reproductive Technologies

By Annette Burfoot | Go to book overview

sixty-seven
Genetics--
Discrimination

REGINA H. KENEN

The diffusion of genetic testing can lead to the misuse of findings, placing those being tested at risk for possible psychological trauma, stigmatization, and discrimination. This happened in the 1970s when unaffected carriers of the sickle-cell trait were sometimes denied employment and life insurance because sickle-cell disease and sickle-cell trait were confused. This risk broadens as diagnostic technology becomes more sophisticated and additional gene-based tests for susceptibilities and carrier states are developed.

Although behavioral genetics has recently gained respectability, it still has a high potential for abuse. Investigations into genetic components for mental illness, aggression, alcoholism, intelligence, and homosexuality-- the findings of which are portrayed in the media as a "crime gene" or an "alcoholic gene" or a "gay gene"--further stigmatize minority groups.

Through the fruits of genetic research, physicians will be able to detect more of the relatively few individuals who have fairly uncommon diseases and an increasingly large number of individuals who bear higher- than-average risks for more common conditions such as colon, prostate, and breast cancer; cardiovascular disease; and Alzheimer's disease. In the late 1990s packages of multiple and simultaneous genetic tests became widely available. Combined with a growing social concern with the role of genetics in disease, these tests could lead to various forms of discrimi-

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