Today our class had a debate on whether or not genetic testing as an underwriting requirement should be allowed in the life insurance industry. I was on the team opposing this proposition and great fun was had by all. In fact, I wish we had more time to come up with even more sophisticated arguments. I know that in hindsight, there is always a better way to do things but my team was unable to provide a coherent answer for why asking about family history should be allowed but genetic testing not allowed and I have posted an answer here. Please note that I do this exercise to share what I feel I have learned from this experience, not to be contentious and NTAA provides the perfect platform for me to do this.
Some may ask what is the difference between genetic testing and asking about family history and I put forth the following answer. Both family history and a person’s genetic make-up give an indication to the probability of disease but a family history does not isolate the cause of the disease whereas in some cases, genetic testing can. However, family history does allow for the influence of external factors that affected those specific family members like lifestyle, environment, exposure to risks etc. So then if you’re looking to narrow the genetic root of the disease with no external factors then genetic testing is the way to go. However, our argument is that it is morally unfair to base premiums on personal characteristics that make up who we are out of one’s control. Both family history and the genes we are born with are out of a person’s control but, whereas family history influences who we are, genetic make-up is who are. Siblings share the same family history but we do not say they are the same person. A trivial example is that even even though I inherited my general hair colour from my parents (family history), the subtle textures and shades are inherently my own and form part of my composition. Furthermore, by our arguments, we shouldn’t discriminate by race which we don’t and even though, in South Africa, we discriminate insurance prices by gender I would argue that it is also morally unfair to do so. If we truly strive for gender equality, we cannot pick and choose what to make equal, all men and women must be afforded the same opportunities whether it is regarding salaries earned or premiums paid.