Can you be discriminated against on account of your genes?

Genetic discrimination is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as the “use of genetic information in making employment decisions”. Genetic discrimination can also include employers requiring or purchasing genetic information, insurers making healthcare decisions based upon genetic information, or other entities making use of privileged information. An example of genetic discrimination would be a woman being dropped from her health insurance because she has the gene that contributes to breast cancer.

Fear of discriminations keeps people from undergoing genetic testing. In truth, genetic testing can be beneficial for both insurers, employers, and people. People who know they are susceptible to certain diseases and disorders can seek proper preventative treatment to manage and minimize the effect of the disease on their life. Negative test results can eliminate the need for unnecessary checkups and screening. There are also many benefits of undergoing testing when making decisions about having children. Ignorance about our risk factors is another reason we don’t pursue the proper medical care, in addition to Parrott’s readings.

Genetic discrimination, like any other type of discrimination, is illegal. In 2008 the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) protects Americans based on their genetic information in both health insurance and employment. However, there are instances where GINA does not apply. It does not apply to the US military, nor health insurance provided through the TRICARE military health system, the Indian Health Service, the Veterans Health Administration, or the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. It also does not cover long term care insurance, life insurance, or disability insurance. Lastly, GINA does not apply to employers with fewer than 15 employees (National Human Genome Research Institute).

All of these instances leave a huge portion of the population susceptible to genetic discrimination. This percentage of our population are then exempt from the benefits of genetic testing.


  • Jennifer Brees

One thought on “Can you be discriminated against on account of your genes?

  1. I had never thought of genetic testing as a form of discrimination, and while I had briefly heard about GINA and insurance plans denying coverage to individuals who have many health problems, I never thought of the other side of carrying a potential gene known for disease. It’s also very interesting to me that so many groups and companies are exempt from GINA. That’s a large group of individuals who aren’t covered by it.


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