Screening could lead to future workforce of ‘fit, young robots’

Genetic testing should not be condoned, a leading OH advisor has warned

OH professionals must warn employers against the dangers of genetic testing
and stress the need for a rational approach to workplace risk.

The warning came from Carol Bannister, OH adviser at the Royal College of
Nursing, who said OH practitioners should not condone the screening of recruits
for genetic predisposition to illnesses.

"For one thing it is likely to be contrary to the Disability
Discrimination Act. The second point is, what are you trying to do? Have a
workforce of fit, young robots?" she said.

Pressure for genetic testing is set to grow following news that the mapping
of the human genetic code is nearly complete. It will lead to greater accuracy
in detecting susceptibility to conditions such as muscular dystrophy.

But refusing to appoint someone with such a predisposition is no more
logical than barring someone who rides a motorbike, said Bannister. "We
are not very good at judging relative risk, but we are good at imposing
emotional values on people."

Testing may help some individuals, but Bannister added, "If you have a
genetic predisposition to Huntingdon’s Chorea and you know no one can do
anything about it, does that help you?"

Every health authority has a genetic counsellor, who can be contacted via
the individual’s GP, she added. OH professionals must refer to a specialist
when the issue falls outside their range of expertise.

A report on the implications of genetic testing for employment and insurance
is expected from the government in the autumn.

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