The Genomics Law Report has published a couple of guest commentaries recently dealing with genetic screening—a topic our own Adam Doerr also addressed in two posts this summer dealing with “wrongful life” claims brought against sperm banks by children with genetic diseases inherited from their donor fathers. Such claims are premised on the failure of the sperm bank to conduct genetic screening that could have detected the defective genes—thereby avoiding the conception of the child on whose behalf the wrongful life claim is brought.
In this post, I look at a recent gamete screening controversy—the revelation that a man fathered at least two dozen children, all but two through the donation of his sperm to a bank, despite having a potentially serious genetic defect—and examine numerous issues the story raises. Many relate to whose interests are valued the highest. Should the wellbeing of the children born of the process—the only people involved who have no say in the matter—come first, or does respect for the autonomy of the parents control? I do not attempt to answer the questions posed, but seek to encourage discussion with respect to the need for clearer policies and guidance in a number of these areas.
The most recent layer of federal antidiscrimination law took effect this past weekend – to the ADA, Title VII, FMLA and other federal and state laws, employers can add another: the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Title I of this new law (called GINA) took effect in May 2009, prohibiting health insurers and group plans from using genetic information to deny coverage or set payment rates. Title II now joins the fray, and with it brings prohibitions that make their way into almost every workplace. Under Title II, an employer may not “discriminate against any employee with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment … because of genetic information.”
While a long time in the making (13 years of (often procedural) debate), in the end, there was little argument in Congress that this law was needed – the Senate approved it unanimously, and the House of Representatives had only one vote against it. As early as January 2001, the Council for Responsible Genetics claimed hundreds of documented cases of genetic discrimination and/or fear of genetic discrimination in its Genetic Discrimination: Position Paper (pdf). In a 2007 survey (pdf), the Genetics and Public Policy Center found that 92% of participants expressed concerns that a genetic test could be used in harmful ways against a person. Last summer, we reported on Major League Baseball’s genetic testing to verify the reported ages of certain Latin American prospects. This past month, the University of Akron made headlines over a new policy requiring job applicants to turn over DNA samples, and in the process energized the Ohio chapter of the ACLU.