NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

DNA Discrimination Theoretical

February 19, 2004

In theory, genetic discrimination means being denied employment or health insurance as a result of testing positive for a gene that raises your risk of developing a disease such as cancer or Alzheimer's. In fact, say observers, the threat has been grossly overstated.

According to a 2000 study examining the effect of state laws barring genetic discrimination in health insurance, researchers found that states with such laws had no fewer cases of genetic discrimination than states without them.

In another 2000 study, Swedish scientists calculated that genes account for less than half of the risk of developing 11 common cancers:

  • The cancers with the highest genetic component, the study found, are prostate (42 percent) and colorectal (35 percent).
  • A woman's risk of getting breast cancer if her identical twin does is only 13 percent.

Thus, supporters of the genetic discrimination bill should make clear that what they want to guard against is no more than a theoretical risk. They should make equally clear that the risk genes they're so worried about are not all they're cracked up to be, say observers.

Source: Sharon Begley, "Bill Seeking to Ban DNA Discrimination Isn't Really Necessary," Wall Street Journal, February 6, 2004; based on Mark Hall and Stephen Rich, "Laws restricting health insurers' use of genetic information: impact on genetic discrimination," American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG) in January 2000; and Paul Lichtenstein, et al, "Environmental and Heritable Factors in the Causation of Cancer -- Analyses of Cohorts of Twins from Sweden, Denmark, and Finland," New England Journal of Medicine, July 13, 2000.

WSJ text (subscription required),,SB107595572756521572,00.html


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