Genetic testing can pave the way for new forms of discrimination as we attempt to classify people. By giving people definite classes, and defining them by properties it can potentially lead people in society attempting to control, help, change, or emulate others for the perceived better (Hacking, 2006). This can lead to certain people being viewed as objects of scientific inquiry rather than humans with feelings (Hacking, 2006). Attempts to enhance what “nature” has endowed (Lock, 2008) often creates advancements in technology and what we are capable of as humans. While it can be argued that genetic technologies have allowed us to advance as a society, it has also acted as a way to make old forms of discrimination into new forms. Contemporary examples of genetic testing being discriminative include genetic testing during pregnancy for genetic conditions and the mistreatment of Indonesian minors who were involved in the smuggling of asylum seekers to Australia.
Genetic testing has emerged as a way to medically test changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins. This can assist in client autonomy (Davis 2009, pp.64) as testing for a possible genetic condition or helping to determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder can help parents make informed decisions. The use of genetic testing has had mixed reviews depending on the context it resides in. It can be quite negative as it creates a link to eugenic past and still views people with a birth defect as different. Genetic technologies have contributed to discrimination on the basis of eugenics (Francis Galton philosophy). Eugenics has aims to produce desirable traits and eliminate undesirable traits. The philosophy of eugenics has led to multiple incidences of discrimination against minorities, in particular, people with disabilities. Historically, parents have had the option to terminate a pregnancy on the basis of a perceived disability in their unborn child. This has led to high levels of pregnancy termination when parents find out their child may have a disability, specifically down syndrome (Kaposy, 2018). Societal attitudes can strongly influence how parents to be view the possibility of having a child with down syndrome as it infers that the child may struggle with independence. However, there is evidence that a child with down syndrome does not have significant decrease in quality of life. While parents should be allowed to make informed choices about their child, the choice to terminate the pregnancy can feed into the bias against disabled people.
Genetic testing can also be used in criminal cases. This can be noted in the case of Indonesian minors who were caught manning boats that smuggled asylum seekers to Australia. Multiple minors were charged as adults and put into adult facilities, via the use of technology to detect an individual’s age. However, the technology the authorities chose to use were inappropriate as the evidence collected wasn’t always a true reflection of the individuals age. The findings were based on wrist bone x-rays which indicated their age based on the state of their bones. This case violated children’s fundamental rights as enshrined in international human rights law. These findings were used as evidence to detain minors with no leniency, despite disputing the test results. Eventually, in mid-2011 the x-ray testing was stopped, but this was after many minors had been detained, leaving them without justice. This is an example of discrimination both in the cases of race and age, as minors were treated unjustly and the attitudes that shaped the treatment of the Indonesian smugglers would have been influenced by Australian government attitudes towards asylum seekers (Toohey 2014).
Genetic testing can pave the way for new forms of discrimination as we attempt to classify people (Hacking, 2006). By giving people definite classes, and defining them by properties it can potentially lead people in society attempting to control, help, change, or emulate others for the perceived better. This can lead to certain people being viewed as objects of scientific inquiry (Hacking, 2006) rather than humans with feelings. Contemporary examples include genetic testing during pregnancy for genetic conditions and the treatment of Indonesian minors who were involved in the smuggling of asylum seekers to Australia. Both make use of advancements in science and technology, but bring moral dilemmas to the table as these technologies have been used to discriminate against individuals.
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