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Genetic underclass

It’s now possible to take a number of tests to find out whether you are a potential sufferer from a disease caused by a genetic defect. This has led to new ethical dilemmas. Is it right, for example, that an employer or prospective employer should be able to screen you for susceptibility for disease? Should insurers have a right to know that you have tested positive for a possible future condition and increase premiums? Such fears are leading to the spectre of a genetic underclass forming: a group of people classified as susceptible to a disease following a genetic test and who are unable to get insurance or jobs. In Britain, the government has announced that it intends to outlaw genetic testing by employers except in rare cases where it might have safety implications. However, British insurers said last week that they will continue to ask for the results of the seven currently available genetic tests if they have been made. It is feared that people will refuse to be tested in case the results are positive, as has happened with HIV.

Mr Ryan said that in New Zealand, insurers were keen to avoid creating a genetic elite, because that would automatically create a genetic underclass.

Evening Post (Wellington, New Zealand), Aug. 2000

Civil rights activists are growing concerned that if such Orwellian practices develop at the same pace as the race to decipher the human blueprint they could create a “genetic underclass” considered unemployable because of the chemical codes they carry inside them.

Guardian, Sep. 2000

Page created 28 Oct. 2000

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World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 28 October 2000.