As of this moment, all I have read about the mapping of human genes has been so upsetting that it only brings to mind the title of the musical Stop the World, I Want to Get Off. I am very far from making my mind up about this difficult issue, but I need to share some of my initial concerns with as many people as possible.
A report cited in Reuters from the Daily Telegraph, London, indicates that “the government plans to allow insurance companies to use DNA testing to assess whether people are at risk of inheriting serious illness and should pay higher premiums.”
I believe strongly in the importance of the market as a means for the distribution of resources in society. However, I also believe that the benefits of development should accrue to all, not leaving any behind. What we now seem to be able to accomplish with research on the human genome multiplies manifold the difficulties of harmonizing these two previously contradicting objectives.
For instance, it would be great if genetics allowed the insurance companies to decide who will pay lower premiums, that is, those with less risk of developing serious illness. However, who will be responsible for those declared genetically second-class citizens, who will be forced to pay double or triple the premium, or who will ultimately be turned down altogether?
This problem is not limited to insurance. Reuters also reported on a conference to be held in mid-April in the United Kingdom in which “Genetic testing of children and testing for physical and social characteristics, as well as medical traits, would be high on the agenda.” Does this imply the possibility that even access to the university will some day be determined in part by genetic analysis?
What would parents who today limit their background search to asking their children who their friends’ parents are do tomorrow? Would they be obliged to ask about their genetic charts? The potential for discrimination is great, and would only reinforce the motivations of overly twisted Darwinists.
This genetic investigation might also represent a serious commercial threat for those countries that are not participating in this area. One of the companies racing to use information from gene mapping to make profits declared that it had hooked up with a center to find genes associated with breast cancer. If the efforts of this company are successful, it will be sitting on a patentable product and would be in a position to become a monopolist in a market with very inelastic demand. Can rationality be guaranteed within the openly declared and not unreasonable intention to obtain profit from the venture?
Many countries have signed commercial agreements that obligate them to respect patents to the extent of having to collaborate with other countries and punish unlawful use of protected discoveries. In the future, advancements in genetic science may force the revision of these accords, to decide whether they are still valid or whether, on the other hand and for the good of the common citizen, they should just look the other way.
What to do? It is very hard to say. Today, and just out of practical considerations, I limit myself to suggesting that all insurance companies design a plan which obligates them to issue policies for all of those who undertake a genetic examination. This policy should cover the negative impact and consequence that could arise from anyone getting access to such information.
I know this is only a Band-Aid, but what else can I do? I am not among those that resign and lie down to cry, even though this matter actually would justify just that.
From The Daily Journal, Caracas, March 2000
From Voice and Noise, Booksurge 2006