Genetic discrimination and mental illness: a case report
With advances in genetic technology, there are increasing concerns about the way in which genetic information may be abused, particularly in people at increased genetic risk of developing certain disorders. In a recent case in Hong Kong, the court ruled that it was unlawful for the civil service to discriminate in employment, for the sake of public safety, against people with a family history of mental illness. The plaintiffs showed no signs of any mental health problems and no genetic testing was performed. This was the first case concerning genetic discrimination in common law jurisdictions, therefore the court's judgment has implications for how genetic discrimination cases may be considered in the future. The court considered it inappropriate to apply population statistics or lifetime risks to individuals while examining fitness for work. It recommended an individualised assessment of specific risks within the job, relative to other risks posed by that workplace.
Josephine G Wong, MA, MRCPsych, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, The University of Hong Kong. Felice Lieh-Mak, MD, FRCPsych, is Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, The University of Hong Kong.