NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Genetic Testing Rational, Necessary

April 24, 2000

The ability to detect human potential, health problems and physical and mental ability from genetic testing has many worried about the abuse of such testing.

  • Most states already have some kind of ban on genetic discrimination on health care, and a few ban discrimination in hiring.
  • In February, President Clinton signed an executive order forbidding discrimination based on genetic tests by the federal government.
  • Clinton also urged Congress to pass a law applying the principle to private employers.
  • The National Association of Manufacturers said a law forbidding discrimination is unnecessary because it is so rare.

But some observers note genetic discrimination is universal, inevitable and even essential, pointing to musical and athletic abilities as just two areas where it is not only normal but unavoidable. If a disposition toward hard work, courage or creative imagination turns out to have a strong genetic component, should be ignored? More generally, the world discriminates on the basis of clearly genetic -- if irrelevant -- traits, such as beauty.

So, what is the limiting principle on banning genetic discrimination? Right now, the universal consensus makes a distinction between the results of genetic testing and genetic traits that reveal themselves in some other way. On the other hand, a genetic test that zeroes on in the trait we need to discriminate about would reduce discrimination based on irrelevant traits.

In any event, critics ask, which is worse, discrimination based on having a genetic condition, or merely on the predisposition to having a condition?

Source: Michael Kinsley (, "A Closer Look At Genetic Discrimination," Dallas Morning News, April 21, 2000.


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