Ethical Concerns for Genetic Testing in the Workplace Sean M. Williams TUI University Module 3 – Case Assignment ETH501 – Business Ethics Introduction The technology and advancements in our lives continue to grow and evolve every day. One arena where this is particularly true is genetic research and testing. It is now possible to test and/or screen for numerous diseases and ailments which can afflict the human body simply by testing a single drop of blood.
This new technology has been utilized in various circles, from testing newborns for disease or determining ones susceptibility to a certain condition to proving or disproving ones innocence of a crime based on their DNA. Additionally, this new technology has brought about issues and discussions regarding the ethics of genetic testing as well as privacy concerns. One major concern is using genetic testing of employees for employer benefit in the workplace. Genetic Testing The science of genetics has evolved on an epic scale thanks to the implementation of new technology.
This evolution has lead to new breakthroughs in science regarding the health of the population. Scientist can now determine if an individual has genetic markers that make them prone to certain diseases and ailments. Unfortunately, there is no cure to overcome these genetic markers. Genetic testing has opened up new doors for employers on estimating their overhead costs of employees. In most circumstances, employers are responsible for the healthcare of their employees. If they have a healthy workforce than they could potentially cut some of these overhead costs to increase their profits.
If their employee workforce is prone to illness, then overheads rise with decreased profits. Through the implementation of genetic testing in the workplace, employers can accurately determine their healthcare costs based on the results. This type of testing can be an invasion of privacy and yield results that are completely out of the control of the employee. Case Study The use of genetic testing can be a tricky subject, especially when it is associated with the employees in the workplace. In general, genetic tests are used to protect workers.
However, despite their noble purposes, they can be perceived as an invasion of privacy and unethical. The lawsuit against The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway Company is a prime example of this. Many ethical questions arise from this situation. The most important of which, what was BNSF’s reason for performing this test, and what were its intentions with the information gained from the test? In terms of utilitarian ethics, BNSF had good intentions when initiating the genetic test for carpal tunnel syndrome.
It was trying to protect its employees by determining whether some of its employees were predisposed to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. By determining this, BNSF could adjust the working environment or establish preventative measures in hopes of minimizing carpal tunnel syndrome from emerging. Ethically speaking, this can be seen as an example of doing something which is beneficial for everyone involved. It protects the employee by adjusting the work environment to prevent injury which in turn correlates to helping the company by keeping its employees healthy so they can keep working for a longer period of time.
Unfortunately, BNSF failed to notify its employees that it was performing that test. That decision has implications in both areas of normative ethics. By not informing the individual that this particular test was being performed, BNSF risked a significant backlash. That unethical decision bred distrust and resentment toward the company. No good can come from concealing information like this from the people directly involved. All it can do is cause more problems and more issues in the future. This decision goes against every aspect of utilitarian ethics.
The decision to conceal this test from BNSF employees has consequences in the deontological ethics realm as well. Fundamentally, it violates the employee’s basic human and civil rights. BNSF took employee’s blood and tested that blood without the employee’s knowledge. They performed a test on something that belonged to the employee without receiving their permission to do so. It can be said that this decision indirectly takes away the individual’s ability to live their life in a free and ethical manner. Despite its good intentions, the decision to keep the mployees in the dark about the specifics of the test was unethical on several levels. The issue of genetic testing is not confined to BNSF. Another such case which has parallels with the BNSF case is the genetic testing performed on newborns in the state of Minnesota. In Minnesota, five drops of blood are drawn from the newborn’s heel and sent out to be tested for more than 50 rare hereditary conditions which can be detected and treated. This test has come under fire with accusations of it being an invasion of privacy.
Similar to the BNSF case, Minnesota’s intentions in testing newborns had the noblest of reasons; protecting the health of those involved. In both cases, they were trying to do the best and right thing for their subjects. Despite its noble intentions, Minnesotans considered the tests unethical in that it was invasion of privacy. The Minnesota case also had aspects similar to BNSF which dealt with lack of information flow. Parents of newborns were not aware that they could refuse the test.
This perceived deception bred irrational thoughts of big corporations maintaining genetic information for future unethical uses. The major issues of Minnesota’s newborn genetic testing have been resolved, but it still serves as another example of how a genetic test can cause ethical dilemmas. Legislation New developments in genetics testing have opened the door for employers to discriminate against employees. Luckily, advances in the Civil Rights of employees have prevented extreme cases from emerging for genetic discrimination in the workplace.
Such Civil Rights include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) acting as its enforcer (Miller, 2007). The EEOC champions the view that the ADA prohibits discrimination against workers based on their genetic makeup (Miller, 2007). The BNSF Railway Company had to deal with the legal ramifications of their genetic testing. Their decision to settle in the case with the EEOC has significant ethical characteristics. In terms of utilitarian ethics, the settlement appears to be fair and what was best for all involved.
For the employee, his concerns for his privacy being violated were brought in the open and forced BNSF to explain themselves and the reasoning for the genetic test. It put the physical nature of the test back in control of the employee. Now, the employee knew what was being accomplished with the test material. Whether it was believed or not, BNSF accepted wrongdoing in not informing the employees of the test and made public the corrective action and rationale behind the test. These actions were beneficial to BNSF because it removed some of the perceived secrecy which some thought was occurring on a regular basis.
Overall, the settlement provided the most positive benefit possible, under the circumstances, for both parties involved. Conclusion The ethics of genetic testing is a precarious endeavor. For companies like BNSF, the noblest of intentions can come back in negative ways. It almost seems that there is no correct action which can be performed. Regardless of the overall purpose for the genetic test, it always seems to offend or violate someone involved, even though it never had that intent.
Despite the lawsuit and subsequent settlement between BNSF and one of its employees, the ultimate effect of this whole situation was a good and fair one. Both parties received a reasonable solution to the problem. In the grand scheme of things, the settlement was the best course of action in order to ensure a positive and productive future for both sides. References Schafer, S. (2001). Railroad Agrees to Stop Gene-Testing Workers. washingtonpost. com. Anonymous (2008). Genetics Data: The Latest Privacy Challenge. HR Focus retrieved from ProQuest August 10, 2008.
Miller, P. S. (2007). Genetic Testing and the Future of Disability Insurance: Thinking about Discrimination in the Genetic Age. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics retrieved from ProQuest August 10, 2008. Smith D. (2006). Newborn screening may get Capitol test. Minneapolis StarTribune. Yee, C. M. (2007). Five Drops of Blood: Invasion of Privacy? Minneapolis StarTribune. Summary of Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and Minnesota Genetic Insurance and Employment Statues. Retrieved August 10, 2008 from www. ipad. state. mn. us