More on DNA

NPR ran a story this morning detailing a plan from the University of Akron to have new employees submit a DNA sample.

As you may recall, I recently wrote about the dangers of stored DNA samples, and this story raises its own set of issues.

In fact, one adjunct professor decided that rather than submit a DNA sample, he would quit:

Williams, who taught in the School of Communications, it was one more insult in the hard life of an adjunct professor. (He’s an officer in a national organization, New Faculty Majority, that advocates for adjunct professors.) He says adjuncts at the University of Akron sign new contracts from year to year, so he expected to be counted as a new worker the next time his contract came up.

So he quit.

“I don’t want to say necessarily that the university had any mal-intent per se,” he says. “The problem is, if the university is maintaining this sort of information on its employees, the temptation to use that information is simply far too great in the future.”

The University is standing by their policy, but did say that they are “reviewing it.”  These sorts of issues will need to be addressed in the future, and I am not sure that there is much value in being an early adopter of employee DNA samples.

It would be interesting to hear from the University of Akron what reasons they have for requesting these samples, what they hope to discover from them, and their plan for analyzing them (because it surely won’t be done in-house) and storing them, retention periods, etc.  How can those benefits possibly outweigh the costs, especially when you have so many employees (approx. 1,842 full-time faculty, plus adjuncts, and staff).

NPR notes that there is a law in place to address these issues, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which went into full effect this past Saturday.

“GINA prohibits health insurers and employers from using your genetic information against you.” The law went fully into effect Nov. 21, and it prevents health insurers from collecting genetic information to make decisions about the insurance people get or how much it costs. The law also says an employer can’t use it to make decisions about hiring, firing or job promotions.

I’m not sure that this would make me any more comfortable about my employer (university or not) collecting DNA data.  As we have all seen with our own credit reports, mistakes replicate amazingly quickly through the various databases (many of which we do not or cannot know about), and are very difficult to rectify.  Data management, personal and otherwise, must be addressed head-on, from a consumer/individual perspective, very soon.  Otherwise, I fear we may end up with problems on our hands that we cannot even imagine at this point.


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