Since the 1990s, developments in the field of genetics have led to many questions on the use and possible misuse of genetic information. 'Genetic discrimination' has been defined as the differential treatment of asymptomatic individuals or their relatives on the basis of their real or assumed genetic characteristics. Despite the public policy attention around genetic discrimination, there is currently still much confusion surrounding this phenomenon. On the one hand, there is little evidence of the occurrence of genetic discrimination. On the other hand, it appears that people remain concerned about this theme, and this fear influences their health and life choices. This article makes use of a systematic literature review to investigate what is already known about the nature, extent and background of these fears and concerns. The 42 included studies have found considerable levels of concerns about genetic discrimination. Concerns dominate in insurance contexts and within personal interactions. The extent of concerns appears to vary depending on the type of genetic illness. Furthermore, installed laws prohibiting genetic discrimination do not seem to alleviate existing fears. This raises important questions as to the origins of these fears. Based on the findings, recommendations for future research are made. First, research on the background of fears is needed. Second, future research needs to assess more fully all different forms (for example, direct and indirect) of genetic discrimination. Thirdly, it has to be studied whether genetic discrimination is a form of discrimination that is distinguishable from discrimination based on an illness or disability. Finally, a last element that should be addressed in future research is the most recent developments in research on genomics, such as next-generation sequencing or genome-wide association studies.
With the development and increasing accessibility of new genomic tools such as next-generation sequencing, genome-wide association studies, and genomic stratification models, the debate on genetic discrimination in the context of life insurance became even more complex, requiring a review of current practices and the exploration of new scenarios. In this perspective, a multidisciplinary group of international experts representing different interests revisited the genetics and life insurance debate during a 2-day symposium ‘Life insurance: breast cancer research and genetic risk prediction seminar' held in Quebec City, Canada on 24 and 25 September 2012. Having reviewed the current legal, social, and ethical issues on the use of genomic information in the context of life insurance, the Expert Group identified four main questions: (1) Have recent developments in genomics and related sciences changed the contours of the genetics and life insurance debate? (2) Are genomic results obtained in a research context relevant for life insurance underwriting? (3) Should predictive risk assessment and risk stratification models based on genomic data also be used for life insurance underwriting? (4) What positive actions could stakeholders in the debate take to alleviate concerns over the use of genomic information by life insurance underwriters? This paper presents a summary of the discussions and the specific action items recommended by the Expert Group.
The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018 served as the cornerstone of the new data governance regime of the European Union. Informed by principles and values such as privacy, accountability, transparency, and fairness, the GDPR is premised on the objective to balance the protection of individual privacy and the promotion of a thriving European data economy. Still, shortcomings of this regulatory effort have been noted by recent ethical, socio-political, legal, and policy scholarship. Focusing on the deployment of digital health technologies and big data practices within the European digital health ecosystem, this article draws upon these bodies of literature to chart the main lines of tension emerging between the current GDPR-based data governance regime and the broader societal shifts coming along with the expansion of digital health. Central aspects of the GDPR-i.e. key underlying data protection principles and regulatory categories, the reliance on the "notice-and-consent" model, the (narrow) remit of the Regulation vis-a-vis possible harms and discriminations-are misaligned with the surge in digital health. This throws into doubt whether the Regulation is fully fit for the purpose of governing current developments in this field, while also calling for swift and adequate policy responses.
Professional guidelines on genetic testing of children have recently shifted their focus from protecting the child's autonomous choice to professionals, together with parents, striving to work in the child's "best interest." This notion of "best interest" allows room for therapeutical as well as psychological and social considerations, and gives rise to the question how parents and professionals weigh up the child's best interest in practice. In this qualitative study, we followed six extended families involved in genetic testing for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in the Netherlands for 3½ years. In total 57 members of these families were interviewed in depth; many of them more than once. Our empirical analysis shows that the best interest of a child is constructed via long-term processes in the broader context of family and kin. In this context, "best interests" are considered and reconsidered. We conclude that a child's best interest should not be framed as the result of an instantaneous agreement between parents and professionals. In dealing with genetic testing of children, parents as well as professionals reflect on and learn from the processes of generating new meanings of "best interest." To enable professionals to deal with the variety in family life, these learning processes should be documented closely.
Since the 1990s, many countries in Europe and the United States have enacted genetic non-discrimination legislation to prevent people from deferring genetic tests for fear that insurers or employers would discriminate against them based on that information. Although evidence for genetic discrimination exists, little is known about the origins and backgrounds of fears of discrimination and how it affects decisions for uptake of genetic testing. The aim of this article is to gain a better understanding of these fears and its possible impact on the uptake of testing by studying the case of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). In a qualitative study, we followed six Dutch extended families involved in genetic testing for HCM for three-and-a-half years. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 57 members of these families. Based on the narratives of the families, we suggest that fears of discrimination have to be situated in the broader social and life-course context of family and kin. We describe the processes in which families developed meaningful interpretations of genetic discrimination and how these interpretations affected family members' decisions to undergo genetic testing. Our findings show that fears of genetic discrimination do not so much stem from the opportunity of genetic testing but much more from earlier experiences of discrimination of diseased family members. These results help identify the possible limitations of genetic non-discrimination regulations and provide direction to clinicians supporting their clients as they confront issues of genetic testing and genetic discrimination.
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