Over the years there have been countless movies, novels, and short stories built around the theme of misuse of genetics to discriminate against individuals.
The typical tropes of these stories go something like this: The government, or some big bad evil business conglomerate that acts as a quasi-government, has access to everyone’s genetic profile, and that information:
• Indicates a person may one day become a criminal, so they are punished for a crime they haven’t yet committed or they are incarcerated to prevent the possibility of committing a crime;
• Is used to separate the elite from the dregs of society, with the dregs required to live a hand-to-mouth existence, serving the elite, who live a life of opulence;
• Is used to prevent people with inferior genetic profiles from rising in the ranks of employment, not allowed to hold certain jobs or positions often coveted by society;
And the list could go on, but the gist of the stories are always that people are treated unfairly not based on anything they have or haven’t done, simply because of their genetic profile. A little bit like being treated differently because of skin color or gender.
Funny thing how science fiction works, often highlighting an issue years, even decades, before it becomes a real-life evil for the average rank-and-file member of society.
We’re there with genetic engineering, and, surprisingly, Fifth District Rep. Virginia Foxx is at the forefront in trampling on individual rights, championing the cause of big business — and big government — at the expense of everyone else.
Foxx is the primary sponsor on the U.S. House of Representative measure (HR1313) that would allow employers to collect, store and even share genetic testing of individual employees.
The bill doesn’t go so far as to straight-out require employees to participate, but it does allow employers to impose harsh financial penalties on employees who refuse, charging up to an extra 30 percent for company-sponsored health insurance plans.
Let’s say an individual is paying $1,500 a month for a family health insurance plan — a figure which is actually lower than the national average. If that employee refuses to allow his company to gather and share his genetic profile, the company could fine him $450 a month. Essentially, that’s forcing the employee to give up his or her genetic secrets, for whatever the company wishes to do with them.
It’s not much of a leap to think companies will use this information for discriminatory purposes, either by refusing to hire individuals with certain genetic markers, or by charging folks with those markets more for insurance.
This bill most certainly runs counter to the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which specifically forbids employers from discriminating based on potential health risks a person might carry in his or her genes.
Foxx’s measure attempts to get around that legislation by making this bill applicable only to businesses that would collect the genetic material as part of a company-wide wellness program.
Wellness programs are great in that they encourage individuals to live a healthier lifestyle. Those programs often offer incentives for healthy living in the form of reduced insurance premiums for reaching certain bench marks: not smoking, losing a certain amount of weight, and the like.
Those are well and good, in that the choice is with the individual. He can opt in to the program, get healthier and receive a discount on health insurance.
But this program championed by Foxx is entirely different, forcing individuals to give up their most intimate and basic possession — themselves and their genetic code — and punishing those who refuse.
This is the sort of stuff you do see in those science fiction movies — and is this is the type of measure that would be enforced by the bad guys.
The bill passed the Republican-controlled House Committee on Education and the Workforce and is being considered by other House committees.
We hope someone will have the good sense to find a way to kill this bill, and remind Foxx it would be good for her to represent the people of her district every once in a while, instead of the businesses putting cash into her coffers.