by Jen Jenkins, Market Analyst, MCN
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, contains the genetic blueprint that distinguishes each and every human being. Since its advent in 1985, and with a 99% accuracy rate, DNA testing has emerged as the most reliable physical evidence available, particularly at crime scenes. The TV show CSI popularized the science behind forensic testing but over the years it has also become widely accessible for many other purposes. Disturbingly, as the tests have become more accurate and less expensive, we are also seeing evidence of discrimination that has arisen due to having this type of information so readily available.
Laws have indeed come about to specifically protect people from discrimination due to genetic testing. The most newsworthy example of this was seven years ago when Congress prohibited employers and insurers from discriminating against people with genes that showed an increased risk for developing diseases that may be costly to treat. A more recent article in The New York Times, “‘Devious Defecator’ Case Tests Genetics Law,” is an interesting, albeit bizarre, example of the serious issues and concerns surrounding this topic. Two men accused of defecating publicly outside a warehouse where they worked were subjected to a DNA test in order to compare their DNA with that of the feces. Both men, fearing the possibility of losing their jobs, agreed to the testing and were subsequently cleared. Following the debacle the men sued the company on the grounds that the genetics law in place made it illegal for the employer to have requested or required genetic information under any circumstances.
“Anyone in the future thinking about using a genetic test in ways that can embarrass or harm an individual will have to confront the fact that it violates federal law,” stated a Georgetown University law professor regarding the case. Nevertheless, although the United States justice system has many existing laws when it comes to awarding damages for other types of discrimination, there are no laws or guidelines in place specifying how judges may award justly for discrimination due to genetic testing misconduct.