First Documented Case of "Genetic Discrimination": Has the Future of Gattaca Arrived?

Tuesday, 02 February 2016 - 3:23PM
Genetic Engineering
Tuesday, 02 February 2016 - 3:23PM
First Documented Case of "Genetic Discrimination": Has the Future of Gattaca Arrived?
A child was removed from his school based on his genetics, and for the first time ever, the lawsuit against the school is alleging "genetic discrimination" under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This case could set a precedent for the future, and help prevent a Gattaca-esque dystopian social stratification based on desirable or undesirable genetics.

Colman Chadman, a sixth-grader in Palo Alto, was born with certain genetic markers of cystic fibrosis, but never developed the disease. When his parents disclosed that information in a medical form to enroll him in middle school, his genetic history somehow got back to parents of two other children at the school whose children have cystic fibrosis. Since children with cystic fibrosis are more likely to pass contagious diseases to each other, the parents demanded that Colman be removed from the school. He was allowed to return after a couple of weeks, but the family has since moved out of Palo Alto and is suing the school.

According to the lawsuit, the school violated Colman's First Amendment right to privacy, as well as violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit was originally dismissed in 2013, but has now been appealed to federal court, and briefs have been written by the Departments of Justice and Education. If the suit continues to be appealed, it could have an effect on national policy. 

There is currently a federal statute called the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) which prevents genetic discrimination, but it doesn't provide very much protection for individuals. It was passed as a reaction not to a case of individual discrimination, but to a case in which a company was attempting to test their employees for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in order to disprove the employees' allegations that they got Carpal Tunnel from their working conditions. As a result, that law only applies to employment and health insurance. It doesn't apply to education, life insurance, or any number of other situations in which discrimination could occur. 

Opening quote
"This case is an useful reminder about the limitations of the federal statute," Jennifer Wagner, a lawyer and contributing editor to Genomics Law Report, told Wired.
Closing quote

Colman's has the potential to be a landmark case, and could help prevent further genetic discrimination in the future. As genetic testing becomes cheaper and more common, employers, schools, and governments will increasingly have access to our genetic information, making a Gattaca-type dystopia a very real danger. If the ADA is expanded to include genetic markers, it could prevent people from being marked as "in-valids" early in life.
Opening quote
"As we do more screening earlier and earlier in life, there's potential for misuse of information in ways that are harmful, that could potentially discourage parents from seeking genetic testing even if it's medically indicated," said Michelle Lewis, a pediatrician, attorney, and research scholar at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.
Closing quote
Science
Science News
Genetic Engineering

Load Comments