Bioethics Blogs

Expanding Notions of Discrimination: Genetic Information & Competitive Sports

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

During a periodic training on the university’s harassment policies today, I learned that my institution has added “genetic information” to the list of characteristics against which one cannot be discriminated. When one of my colleagues asked, “Do you have an example of that,” the presenter stumbled. After a few beats she said if someone had a gene for a disease but did not have any symptoms of that yet or an evident physical disability.

The policy change likely follows from the federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act that protects some medical information. Genetic information cannot be used to make insurance and employment decisions. But the law is limited and has been criticized as being unenforceable.

I then raised the question, “So, if a female athlete is found to have XY chromosomes, then we could not discriminate by saying she could not play on the women’s team?” In some cases, this is androgen insensitivity syndrome, when a phenotypically female is genetically male but because her cells do not react to testosterone (and since the embryological default is female), she never developed masculine biology. The presenter said that was a great example. So it’s about more than just information from a genetic test, it’s about genes in our bodies.

Our new university policy may be progressive, but it may force us to grapple with external bodies that have very different perspectives. For example, the International Olympic Committee has the right to gender test a person if there is suspicion. In 2012, the IOC changed a previous policy that defined female as having two X chromosomes.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.