The 'forbidden' questions on genetic testing

How much do you drink? Do you smoke? Do you take part in any dangerous pastimes? Questions like these will be familiar to anyone who has recently applied for life insurance.

However, insurance companies in the United Kingdom are currently prohibited from asking questions they may find even more helpful questions about genetic tests, which could reveal whether applicants have genetic mutations which could put them at a high risk of developing certain diseases.

Now, a team based in Cardiff, Wales is working on research to help decide what use, if any, such tests might be to insurance companies.

Currently, insurance companies are concerned that people who have had genetic tests may take out large amounts of cover, without revealing that the tests show they have a high risk of developing a particular disease a phenomenon known as "adverse selection."

Now, with funding from the Wellcome Trust's biomedical ethics programme, the Cardiff-based team aims to gather evidence on the potential impact of genetic testing on insurance costs, and the interaction between genetic testing and insurance buying.

The team comprises: Dr Lindsay Prior, Reader in Sociology in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University; Professor Peter Harper, Professor of Medical Genetics at the University of Wales College of Medicine (UWCM); Dr Jonathan Gray, Consultant in Medical Genetics (Cancer) at UWCM; and Professor Angus Macdonald, Professor of Actuarial Mathematics at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Dr Prior said: "The question is, how do people perceive the risk, and what do they do about it? This is an important issue for patients, whose lives it directly affects, and for clinicians, who fear that the insurance industry's attitude may deter people from having tests, as well as for the insurance industry who fear adverse selection."

For the first stage of the research Dr Prior and the team are extracting anonymous data

Contact: Andrew Weltch
Cardiff University

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