Question: Can my DNA test keep me from getting health insurance?
Many people worry that DNA test results could prevent them from getting health insurance - or even a job - if the results show predisposition to certain diseases. They fear genetic discrimination from employers and insurers will lead to a future where DNA plays the primary role in determining social class or status.
In 2008, the New York Times highlighted consumer determination that ‘something needs to be done so you cannot be discriminated against.’ Insurance companies argue that they are ‘not interested in any way, shape or form in discriminating based on a genetic marker.’ Yet, Congress enacted the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) as a specific protection against such prejudice ( it was signed into law in 2008 and went into effect November 21, 2009).
Debate continues as to whether or not such laws are necessary or effective. But where does DNA paternity testing fit into the question?
When FBI geneticists began researching DNA identification through its now-famous CODIS project, they shared similar concerns. They (wisely) began looking for genetic markers that could tell us about identity without telling us anything else. The answer? Junk DNA.
Junk DNA, or non-coding DNA, are genetic markers that don’t seem to do much aside from getting passed on from parent to child. They aren’t linked to eye color, muscular fitness, or your grandmother’s crooked nose - and they can’t tell us anything about heart disease, leukemia, or even obesity. In short, junk DNA is useless for medical science, but still tells us everything we need to know about identification and biological relationships; it’s perfect for the FBI - and for paternity tests.
In the US, a paternity test commonly uses up to 15 genetic markers: any or all of the 13 CODIS markers and one or two other junk DNA markers developed by paternity testing labs. This means that a DNA test can answer questions about paternity without even looking at questions about inherited diseases. DNA paternity test results today can only be used for one purpose: paternity. The results are useless to anyone trying to discriminate based on genetics; to them, that DNA is just . . . junk.
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