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Akron Univ. School of Law

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Genetic Testing and Genetic Discrimination

A contributor to mydisabilityblog posts about recent announcements of new blood tests that reveal that an an individual has a mental illness.  The contributor finds some excitement in the news but also much worry: 

Recently, I read an article about a blood test that may have the capability of revealing mental illness and I must say that the possibility both excited and worried me. Speaking as a daughter and mother of bipolar individuals, the thought that medical professionals would be better equipped to diagnose my loved one’s mental status through a blood test excited me. It is often difficult for medical professionals to assess the severity of their patients’ moods by observations and conversations with them. . . .

Presently, medical professionals relay upon their observations and the patient’s statements, consequently the severity of an individual’s illness is easily underestimated or overestimated by their treating physician. Dr. Alexander Niculescu, III, the lead researcher of the study, which was published recently in the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry, believes that an objective test that enables a medical professional to determine mental status, severity of illness, and assessment of response to treatment is a huge step in the right direction. Other medical professionals are rightly concerned about the possible ethical questions that a blood test for mental illness would raise. For instance, insurance companies to deny benefits to potential clients could use these same blood tests; blood tests could be used to determine an individual’s competence, enrollment in college, to screen potential employees, or a myriad of other controversial ways.

After considering all of the above, I have to say that I would not wish for my child to be denied access to educational or employment opportunities because of a blood test. I worry that blood tests used to assess mental illness may become a weapon for employers, law enforcement, and insurance companies. In fact these blood tests will most likely be used for the reasons listed above as much or more than as a tool for improved assessment of the severity of an individual’s bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, or anxiety disorders. As with so many other medical advancements, we as a society must be careful not to open a Pandora’s box.

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