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Akron Univ. School of Law

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Eddy Curry Update: Genetics in the Workplace

As noted earlier in this space, basketballer Eddy Curry is undergoing testing to rule out a potentially lethal heart condition.  His former team, the Chicago Bulls,  insisted on a genetic rule-out, which Curry refused, and he was traded to the N.Y. Knicks. Today's New York Times has an update in today's sports section.  These paragraphs nicely summarize the issue for the Knicks:

As Eddy Curry takes the court for the first time this weekend wearing a Knicks uniform, basketball fans and executives will be holding their breath wondering whether his heart will skip a beat again.

The Knicks hope Curry is the long-awaited solution at center - nothing more, and nothing less.

But in the two weeks since the Knicks and Chicago Bulls orchestrated the trade that brought him to New York, Curry has been larger than sports - a 6-foot-11, 285-pound test case in ethics pushing legal, medical and athletic boundaries with the questions that his irregular heartbeat in March prompted.

The ethical onus now rests with the Knicks. How will they monitor his health for the next six years of his contract, a $60 million commitment that is still uninsured by the league's insurance carrier because of Curry's previous heart problems?

The Knicks and the NBA both declined to force the issue of genetic testing, absent any clinical indication of a heart ailment.  The Times' Liz Robbins also notes:

Curry's situation underscores the developing showdown between employers and employees over privacy. This week, I.B.M. adopted a policy that prohibited the use of genetic testing in hiring or determining eligibility of employees for its health care or benefit plans. Genetics policy specialists and privacy-rights groups said I.B.M.'s pledge appeared to be the first such move by a major corporation.

The Times story about IBM's announcement is here.  IBM's announcement is here, and its Chief Privacy Officer's blog commentary is here.   

Robbins also puts the Curry situation into a federal focus:

"We are all walking around with several dozen DNA glitches that place us at risk for something," Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institute of Health, said in an interview last week.

"If you want to move into a world of testing where the jobs for which we we're well-qualified are otherwise unavailable to us, we need to take action."

There is no federal law protecting employees' genetic privacy. This year, the Senate passed a genetic nondiscrimination bill by a vote of 98 to 0 [S. 306, introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Me.] and the House is considering similar legislation [H. 1227, introduced by Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill.].

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