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Screening for genetic 'predisposition' to occupational health hazards: ethical issues.

Schulte PA
35th Annual Symposium of the Society of Toxicology of Canada, December 5 - 6, 2002, Montreal, Canada,, 2002 Dec; :1-8
Although the application of genetic screening to the workplace has been limited to date, there has been extensive discussion of the ethical issues. Genetic screening is an activity that raises a range of questions that revolve around two issues: (1) whether genetic information should be treated any differently than other medical information; this has been referred to as "genetic exceptionalism"; and (2) the balance between autonomy and beneficence. Proponents of genetic screening argue that, in a competitive business environment, employers seek to use technical innovations, such as genetic screening, to select employees. Genetic factors are already considered in job decisions to the extent they affect abilities, skills, and knowledge. Genetic screening has the potential to alert individual employees to certain disease risks, so they can protect themselves and better understand ramifications of risks to offspring. Ostensibly, organizations can use genetic screening to avoid placing hypersusceptible workers in hazardous jobs. With these potential benefits, some have argued that companies have an obligation to screen. In contrast, making employment decisions on the basis of genetic factors goes against the historic practice of opportunity based on merit. Genetic screening has the potential to violate the principle of justice, which is the basis for fairness in hiring. Moreover, there is the potential that organizations will use genetic screening to deny employment rather than modify the work environment. Genetic screening also threatens workers' rights to maintain control over what is known about their bodies. Workers also can be threatened or harmed by potential stigmatization and resultant discrimination and psychosocial effects. While genetic information may appear similar to other medical information, the potential for invasion of personal privacy and misuse of genetic information needs to be carefully considered. As the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine recommended: "The guiding ethical principles for such testing should be voluntary, informed consent and confidentiality with due respect for autonomy, equity, and privacy considerations of those tested."
Genetic-factors; Genetics; Occupational-hazards; Occupational-health; Medical-screening; Employee-health; Workers; Toxicology; Information-processing; Regulations; Work-capability
Publication Date
Document Type
Conference/Symposia Proceedings
Fiscal Year
NIOSH Division
Source Name
35th Annual Symposium of the Society of Toxicology of Canada
Page last reviewed: January 29, 2021
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division