Attempts to bar three men from jobs on the basis of their families' medical history have been ruled as unlawful by a Hong Kong judge. The case, reported by the Observer newspaper, was hailed last week as 'a great victory in an important rights case' by their lawyer Gerard McCoy. Two of his clients were refused employment as a fireman and an ambulanceman respectively, while a third was abruptly dismissed from his post as a customs officer.
After intervention by the Hong Kong Equal Opportunity Commission, the men learned they had all been discriminated against because they had a parent affected by schizophrenia. The authorities concerned claimed that this meant the men had a greatly increased risk of developing the illness themselves (ten per cent, compared to an average risk of one per cent). But expert witness Professor Peter McGuffin, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, said the authorities had completely misunderstood the statistics. He pointed out that as the men were all in their twenties - past the usual age at which symptoms appear - their actual risk was four per cent.
Judge Donald Christie ruled that the discrimination against the men was unlawful, a decision applauded by McGuffin. 'It was really important to set a precedent with this' he said.
Meanwhile, evidence presented at a conference held in the US last week indicates that American health insurance companies rarely, if ever, discriminate against people who have taken a genetic test. Mark A Hall from Wake Forest University of Medicine, North Carolina, hired a market research firm to pose as a firm with three employees, one of whom had tested positive for a genetic alteration associated with a high risk of breast cancer. No health insurance companies refused to offer the fictitious firm coverage, said Hall.
Sources and References
Genetic discrimination in health insurance called rare