Genomic Records & Voting

So part of my research is on voting. And another part is on the privacy of genomic medical records (which, admittedly, I haven’t spoken about much on this blog yet). It’s not often that I find an article that combines both. But I guess it was inevitable:

In the coming era of personal genomics — when we all can decode our genes cheaply and easily — political candidates may be pressed to disclose their own DNA, like tax returns or lists of campaign contributors, as voters seek new ways to weigh a leader’s medical and mental fitness for public office.

Totally agreed. It’s not “may,” in my opinion, it’s inevitable. I think by 2016, it will be part of the Presidential Election discussion. If genetic testing is widespread, and there’s any history of mental illness or heart disease in a candidate’s family, then the press will come looking, and refusal to disclose will be seen as admission of a problem.

This is the issue that privacy advocates bring up regularly but that fails to resonate with people, even though it really should: the mere availability of data, even if locked with a password, threatens one’s privacy. It creates expectations of due release in certain conditions. Employers might consider it normal due diligence to ask if you’re genetically pre-disposed to anger and aggression when they hire you, just like it was perfectly acceptable, 30 years ago, to ask a woman if she planned on having kids anytime soon.

The only protection we have is legal and societal. It needs to become legally forbidden to ask for this kind of information, and it needs to become socially unacceptable, too. The Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA) takes us in the right direction on this front, though it’s likely not the last word.



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