The real significance of genome mapping won't be clear for years. And, like every scientific discovery, it will give humans information that they can use to do good or to do harm. . . .
With greater knowledge comes greater responsibility. If we know what gene or genes are responsible for epilepsy, deafness, color blindness, muscular dystrophy or cystic fibrosis, scientists can search for new cures.
But while they're searching, employers and insurers could use the information to reject workers or policy applicants genetically predisposed to certain diseases. That's not the stuff of science fiction; it's already happening -- for obvious reasons. Companies can save millions of dollars. . . .
Already, congressional leaders are introducing legislation to prevent insurance companies from requiring genetic testing or using genetic information to deny coverage or set rates. Efforts to ban genetic discrimination outright are likely to follow.
Such laws will be needed while our knowledge of the genome is still in its relative infancy. . . . As scientists learn more, as mysteries are cleared and new ones emerge, those laws will need to change. Science often moves faster than ethics or the law can keep up.
It is doing that now. Researchers are getting to the very essence of who we are, which is also the area that ethics has always tried to protect. Finding the balance will be as critical as figuring out how our genes work.