October 16, 2003
US Senate DNA Privacy Vote Will Have Large Unintended Consequences

The US Senate boldly moves to try to prevent people from being judged by their DNA.

The Senate has moved unanimously to ensure that breaking down the human genetic code will bring health benefits without exposing people to job and health care discrimination. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act that cleared the Senate Tuesday on a 95-0 vote would bar employers from using people's genetic information or family histories in hiring, firing or assigning workers. Insurance companies could not use genetic records to deny medical coverage or set premiums.

Any effort that seeks to prevent people from taking advantage of useful information will cause harmful consequences. If genetic information suggested that some workers were uniquely susceptible to exposure to some class of compounds which were completely innocuous to most people this proposed law will probably prevent companies from assigning workers based on that information. If particular genetic profiles turn out to make some people more likely to break down under physically dangerous stressful situations then, again, under this proposed law employers be banned from using that information.

One might argue that the legislators want to assure that each person is treated as an individual. But individual genetic profiles will provide a great deal of information about each person that will allow a far more detailed breakdown of just how much the members of any group of workers or job candidates differ from each other. But the problem is that using genetic profiles seems to many people to be too much like predestination and the use of genetic information threatens the belief that free will can allow people to mold and develop themselves in ways that transcend individual genetic inheritances. The ability to use DNA test results to more accurately predict future performance in jobs and school and the odds of getting illnesses threatens people's sense of self-control over their destiny and their belief in limitless personal potential. There is a resistance to the use of technological advances to automatically produce more accurate evaluations of the potential of individual humans.

Supporters claim they are voting for civil rights legislation.

The chairman of the health panel, Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, described the bill as "civil rights legislation" for "a world where the secrets of human life have been plotted out and sheep have been cloned."

US Senators say they are promoting high moral principles.

"This is a moral responsibility and a practical necessity," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) said, "We can't afford to take one step forward in science but two steps backward in civil rights."

But how would this bill work in practice? Some day personal DNA sequencing will become very cheap and most people in developed countries will be able to afford to have their complete genome sequenced. Once they have that information they will be able to find out their risk profile for a large variety of diseases. This will create a real serious problem for medical insurance companies: those people who are most at risk for getting sick will sign up for more medical coverage and those at lower risk for serious illness will sign up for less coverage on average. This will cause the insurance companies to collect less in revenues while paying more out in benefits. They will respond by raising rates on everyone who seeks insurance. This will cause those at lowest risk to further reduce their coverage. If individuals know their risks and the insurance companies do not then people will be able to game the system. The result will be fewer customers for medical insurance and those who do seek it will be at greater risk of getting sick.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 October 16 01:19 AM  Biotech Privacy

Patrick said at October 17, 2003 1:04 AM:

All improvements in medical prediction work against insurance companies. Insurance only works because an individuals outcome is unknown, but a large populations can be predicted quite well. The less uncertainty there is for each individual, the less insurance makes sense. Long term, insurance companies should be fighting for the complete banning of all research into genetics and other prediction technologies.

Angelo said at March 14, 2005 9:15 AM:

i think they shouldnt banned it they need to test and insurance shouldnt know its a privacy thingy

angelo said at March 17, 2005 9:29 AM:

i agree with my comment above even if it dont make a whole lot of sense because my mom says insurance is the devil and i kno that he cant be to good. so insurance must be lookin for a nother way to work people over. they dont need to kno my jeens

angelo said at March 17, 2005 9:31 AM:

theres supose to be an a there instead of two e's but if you cant find that you need to get that problem checked

ToAngelo said at November 21, 2005 1:27 PM:

Dearest Angelo, What the hell are you talking about? I do not understand what you are saying. I would appreciate if you would so kindly speak english.

jeff willison said at June 22, 2007 8:53 AM:

you guys are so crazy this shit is funny i dont know what hell none of yall are talking about haha

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