Genetic Discrimination Cases On The Rise
Moments after birth, the exact time and cause of death of every human being is determined through a genetic test. Those with a high likelihood of a disease or a learning disorder, or a lower life expectancy, are then resigned to a menial job.
This is the world of "Gattaca," a 1997 film set in the not-too-distant future. Indeed, this future was not-too-distant for Congress to pass, 414 to 1, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act in 2008, which prohibits employers or health insurance companies from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their genetic makeup. The lone dissenter was Ron Paul.
In fiscal year 2011, 245 Americans filed genetic-discrimination complaints, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's annual report, a 20 percent leap up from the year before. The half-a-million-dollar payout last year was an increase of 625 percent.
These cases are likely to continue to rise in the coming years, predicts Time magazine columnist Adam Cohen, as our genetic tests become more sophisticated. Already, predispositions for cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's can be assessed with significant accuracy.
And judges are likely to hear such cases with sympathetic ears. "Genes are a classic immutable characteristic," the Yale Law School professor writes, "outside of some complicated medical procedures, we're pretty much stuck with the genes we were born with."
Every human being, even those who reside in categories traditionally immune to discrimination, like white, American-born, non-disabled men, could take a test and find themselves at high risk for diabetes, or another chronic illness that's likely to levy a heavy expense on an employer or insurance company.
If "Gattaca" taught us anything, it's that even Ethan Hawke, a prime example of white, American-born, non-disabled manhood, isn't safe from discrimination.
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