The Frontal Cortex

This seems like a pretty terrible policy:

Eric Miller’s career as an Army Ranger wasn’t ended by a battlefield wound, but his DNA.

Lurking in his genes was a mutation that made him vulnerable to uncontrolled tumor growth. After suffering back pain during a tour in Afghanistan, he underwent three surgeries to remove tumors from his brain and spine that left him with numbness throughout the left side of his body.

So began his journey into a dreaded scenario of the genetic age.

Because he was born with the mutation, the Army argued it bore no responsibility for his illness and medically discharged him in 2005 without the disability benefits or health insurance he needed to fight his disease.

“The Army didn’t give me anything,” said Miller, 28, a seven-year veteran who is training to join the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

While genetic discrimination is banned in most cases throughout the country, it is alive and well in the U.S. military.

For more than 20 years, the armed forces have held a policy that specifically denies disability benefits to servicemen and women with congenital or hereditary conditions. The practice would be illegal in almost any other workplace.

As we inevitably get better at detecting the individual polymorphisms underlying many different diseases, this is going to be a tremendously important ethical issue, and not only for insurance companies. To what extent are we liable for our own genetic code? With this policy of genetic discrimination, it sure seems like the U.S. military is setting a dangerous and short-sighted precedent.


  1. #1 Sabrina
    August 20, 2007

    We are at a problematic stage now, where non-scientists are making life-affecting decisions based on only a partial understanding of the science behind medical conditions. Unfortunately, the military made their decision based on the overly simplistic conception of genetic contribution to disease, which works fine for simple dominant/recessive conditions like colorblindness, but which are not so clear for cancer vulnerability. I would argue that the conditions the military put the soldier in increased his likelihood of developing cancer, so therefore he ought to be entitled to benefits.

    Thank you for this article; I am both a bioethicist and a military officer, so this is doubly interesting.

  2. #2 otopark sistemi
    March 7, 2009


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