Our genetics are what makes us who we are. Science Daily notes that as much as twelve percent of the human genome can have different genetic characteristics and as much as six to nineteen percent of any given chromosome in the human body. The vast number of permutations that this can offer to the human race is staggering, and it’s what makes us such a unique species. However, hard-coded into our genes are certain things that put us at risk of certain diseases. The American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that there are several different abnormal configurations of genes that are inherited across generations that increase the risk of cancer for individual families. While the transfer of these genes through hereditary has been known for a long time, it has only recently come into focus as people’s eligibility for life insurance hangs in the balance as taking tests to enlighten people about the presence of these abnormal configurations could count against an insurance company deciding to cover an individual.
What Is Genetic Discrimination?
The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) defines genetic discrimination as a basis of discrimination that is rooted in the genetic makeup of a particular individual. As more and more people become aware of their genetics, companies can start using that knowledge to fuel their own decisions. In some cases, the result isn’t evil – companies can market particular products to people who have a genetic predisposition for short-sightedness built into their genes for example. In the most extreme of cases, however, this sort of discrimination can lead to people not being able to live happy, healthy lives, all because of something that they have no control over.
Ignoring the Elephants in the Room
Because of the ease of availability of genetic testing in more developed countries of the world, people can start finding out about their genetic markers and what diseases they may at risk for. This has the added benefit of allowing individuals to be forewarned of impending problems with their health that are genetically encoded. While genetic makeup can suggest the propensity of an individual acquiring a particular disease, it is far from a sure thing. However, in some industries, all one needs is the chance of something happening to make a decision that could impact a life irreparably.
The Science of Chance
According to the Journal of Insurance, both mathematics and statistics offer significant advantages to the field of insurance since they deal with helping insurers predict risk more effectively. Insurers deal with uncertainty and its impact on human life and well-being. To this end, the potential for people to develop long-term, chronic diseases or potentially fatal diseases later on in life is of utmost importance for these companies. By limiting their coverage to clients that have the potential to develop such conditions, they lower their own risk and the chance that they may have to cover treatment for those patients when they do discover that they have developed the said disease. From the business side of the equation, the idea is brilliant. However, it completely removes the most crucial part of insurance – the element of humanity.
Discrimination By Any Other Name
Human beings have come quite a long way in recognizing our shortcomings in terms of prejudice. We are still struggling in different parts of the world with equality of gender, race, and other factors. Discriminating against someone because of their genetic predisposition towards getting sick is just as bad as discriminating against someone because of their skin color. In a paper published in the journal Public Health Genomics, the author argues that the insurance industry self-regulation in Australia lacks in its application of industry standards for the use of genomic data and that more government oversight is necessary to ensure that everyone has a fair chance at being covered. In other developed parts of the world, similar situations arise that make it evident that safeguards need to be enacted to classify this sort of discrimination and to take action against companies that use it to disqualify consumers from their product.
Public Faith Hangs in the Balance
While it’s not inherently a bad thing allowing insurance companies in Toronto to have access to genomic data to inform their decisions, there needs to be a more robust safety net in place to ensure that that data doesn’t automatically disqualify an individual. Additionally, while these markers indicate a chance of a particular disease showing up, they are by no means a foolproof method of predicting the incidence of illness and should be taken as an indicator. While the premiums for individuals with these sorts of markers might be marginally higher than those without them, their presence should not immediately disqualify a customer from being insured with a company. As the industry has dropped the ball on the usage of this data, it’s up to the consumers or the government to organize to ensure that measures are taken to remove this sort of discrimination going forward. No one should have to suffer for something that they have no control over.