Professor of Philosophy, San Francisco State University
Anita Silvers, Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University, has published seven books, including Medicine and Social Justice (with Rosamond Rhodes and Margaret Battin), Americans With Disabilities: Exploring Implications of the Law for Individuals and Institutions (with Leslie Francis), Disability, Difference, Discrimination: Perspectives on Justice in Bioethics and Public Policy (with David Wasserman and Mary Mahowald),Sociobiology and Human Nature (with Michael Gregory). and The Recombinant DNA Controversy (with Michael Gregory). She has written more than one hundred book chapters and articles on ethics and bioethics, social philosophy, aesthetics, law, feminism, and disability studies, In 2002, Silvers co-directed (with Eva Kittay) an NEH Summer Seminar on "Justice, Equality, and the Challenge of Disability." The California Faculty Association honored her with its Equal Rights Award for her work in making higher education more accessible to people with disabilities.
Preserving the Promise of Genomics: A Civil Rights Route to Protection from Genetic Discrimination
Genomics promises an unprecedented tool for improving public health. Predictive genetic testing can identify asymptomatic individuals who are at risk of becoming ill. In a growing number of instances, people who test positive can take preventative measures to slow or stop disease.
Genomics also threatens unparalleled harm. People may be denied employment, immigration, insurance, or other social goods, because of being identified as genetically flawed. Genetic discrimination threatens to create a new underclass. For fear of discrimination, people may evade genetic testing and consequently impede genomics' contribution to public health improvement. Scientists most involved in mapping the human genome, and politicians from Bush to Clinton, thus have called for strong legal protections against genetic discrimination.
Three approaches to statutory protection have been pursued. These are (1) maintaining the privacy of genetic test results, (2) construing genetic discrimination as disability discrimination prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and (3) forbidding adverse actions prompted by knowledge of genetic test results. Unfortunately, all three approaches are fatally flawed.
Little attention has been paid to a fourth, more ambitious approach, namely, extending civil rights to prohibit discrimination based on genetic identity. Comparing genetic identity with racial and sexual identity shows that everyone deserves equal against genetic discrimination.
There are conceptual, historical and social dimensions of "genetic identity" that are analogous to the elements of racial and sexual identity that command civil rights protection. Thus, genetic discrimination should be prohibited for the same reasons, and with the same broad scope, that race and sex discrimination are banned.