Germany Limits Genetic Testing

In the coming years, expect to see more and more countries (and states & provinces) enacting legislation to impose restrictions on genetic testing — what kinds of tests can be done, whether they require a physician’s involvement or can be ordered from the comfort of your own home, etc. One key issue to watch will be whether legislators opt to legislate narrowly & carefully, or broadly in a way that throws the baby out with the bathwater. Here’s a story that starts to hint at the range of tests up for consideration…

From the Associated Press: Germany limits genetic testing

The German parliament approved legislation Friday limiting the use of genetic testing in an effort to prevent the technology’s abuse.

The law, which was debated for more than seven years, must still go before the upper house of parliament, but it is not expected to meet any resistance.

Under the law, genetic tests can only be carried out by a doctor and require the full consent of all parties involved. That makes it illegal to conduct anonymous paternity tests and anyone found in violation could be fined up to euro5,000 ($6,525).

The law further limits the use of genetic testing on fetuses to purely medical purposes, meaning parents are prohibited from using it to determine the sex of their unborn children….

Interesting that they chose to limit paternity testing. My guess is that paternity testing is among the most dangerous uses of genetic testing — most fears about GT are pretty much speculative (Will knowing I’ve got the gene for X change how I perceive myself?), but there’s nothing speculative about the harms that can be done to families by paternity tests. That’s not to say that paternity tests are not sometimes justified. It’s just to say that it’s a type of testing that has the potential, at least, to cause serious trouble. Of course, gene-based paternity testing is just the modern, more accurate version of a test that’s actually been available for years, so it’s not clear (to me) whether restricting gene-based paternity testing can accomplish the legislators’ objective.


About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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