Saturday, October 15, 2005

Employment conditioning on DNA tests?

I am not a basketball fan but this story caught my attention today, thanks to Feng.

Today, the Hawks center Collier died. In the news, analysts are speculating the cause of death being heart arrest. I remember from my junior high biology class that there is a genetic condition for extrordnary tall people. With such condition, their heart blood vessels have a different structure than normal people, which makes them grow taller but on the same time make their hearts more stressed and more subject to heart arrest. I remember my biology teacher told us several famous atheletes were known to have died of this condition. I don't know whether this is something related to those speculations but this is what I can speculate.

I think the reason why I can remember so vividly what the teacher said is because I found it very sad. A condition can give one the physique to pursue in sports can also kill him/her young.

Now, the focus is not actually on the dead but rather the center of Knicks newly acquired from the Bulls. The story is here. Long story short. The center, Eddy Curry felt chest pain and irregular heart beats during training camp in 04 and the Bulls wanted him to have DNA test in order to decide whether he is susceptible to some fatal heart defects. Curry refused to do so, citing his privacy rights. The Bulls said that they will sign a big contract with Curry if the test returned as negative, otherwise,

Paxson, speaking during the team's media day, told reporters the Bulls had offered Curry $400,000 annually for the next 50 years if he failed the genetic test.

When I first saw it, I thought, "oh, it is not about money". Or, isn't it? If someone knows that he has such a defect and can't live long, would he want to have the big/short-term contract or the small/long-term contract? Of course, he would like to get as much money as possible in as short as possible time. However, what stirs the controversy is not the money this time. Reading along, another news article says:

"Think about what's at stake here," said Alan Milstein, Curry's attorney. "As far as DNA testing, we're just at the beginning of that universe. Pretty soon, though, we'll know whether someone is predisposed to cancer, alcoholism, obesity, baldness and who knows what else.

"Hand that information to an employer," he added, "and imagine the implications. If the NBA were to get away with it, what about everyone else in this country looking for a job."

This lead me to think about how the information we extraced from genetic codes should be used. I know this is a very heated topic nowadays. It never really occurs to me that it is so current.

If an employment can be based on whether someone is mentally sound, should high-risk genetic disorders be treated similarly? If an employment search can not discriminate against people with disabilities, should genetic defects someone was born into be treated similarly? Sure, it is time to decide the privacy rights on DNA information of inidividuals and the regulations on the use of such informations. But I am having a hard time thinking of a way this can be decided unbiasedly.