Falling Between the Jurisdictions: Genetic Discrimination & the Law

Contributed by Alanna Crouse

Genetic testing is becoming an every-day reality for many Canadians. Between the rise of personalized medicine in clinics, to the trendiness of at-home DNA tests like 23andMe, there appears to be a growing acceptance and comfort with genetic testing. Yet despite this normalization, not everyone is ready to embrace the idea of scientists or companies having access to some of their most innate and intimate information.

This trepidation is understandable and well-founded. Each of our genomes (the collection of an individual’s genetic material) is unique and offers a wealth of information into our past, present and future. Our genomes can reveal our ancestral origins, who we are biologically related to, and predispositions to diseases that may manifest later in life. Thus, one cheek swab has the potential to uncover stories and vulnerabilities we may not know about ourselves.

The ability to uncover such information brings with it the potential for genetic discrimination. Genetic discrimination occurs when people or organizations treat others differently because they have a gene mutation that causes or increases their risk of disease. Genetic discrimination has so far impacted the ability of Canadians to gain and retain employment, and obtain insurance coverage. Fear of these life-altering ramifications has led some to decline genetic tests that would otherwise generate beneficial information including diagnoses, appropriate treatment options, and disease prevention plans. Thus, the inability to guarantee the safeguarding of genetic information has been holding Canadians back from safer and healthier lives. Continue reading “Falling Between the Jurisdictions: Genetic Discrimination & the Law”

Using the Law to Respond to the Anti-Vaccination Movement

Contributed by Alanna Crouse

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a scientific paper in the highly prestigious journal The Lancet proclaiming a connection between autism and the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. It was later discovered that Wakefield’s study not only exemplified bad science but was outright fraudulent. An extensive investigation revealed that Wakefield altered the data to make it fit his claim and that his research was funded by lawyers who were representing parents involved in a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. Together, these findings shook the scientific community and led The Lancet to retract the paper. Unfortunately, it was too late, as the anti-vaccination movement had already begun.

Contrary to Wakefield’s claim, vaccines are one of the great marvels of the medical world. Prior to their discovery, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death worldwide. After they came into use in Canada, death by infectious disease fell to 5% of all deaths across the country. Accordingly, cases of measles, mumps, rubella, and diphtheria all dropped by 99%, while polio was eradicated altogether. Thus, in a matter of decades, we put to rest some of the most prominent causes of death in the world.

Despite the drastic improvement in public health and two decades’ worth of evidence establishing the safety of vaccines, Wakefield’s unscientific and unethical publication has emboldened a public health crisis that remains in full effect today. A Canadian study in 2010 revealed that 65% of women and 72% of men either believed the MMR vaccine was unsafe, or they were unsure whether or not it caused autism. This attitude has manifested in what organizations like the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society have deemed “suboptimal” coverage rates of immunization, and subsequently, a rise in measles outbreaks since 2011.

Given the serious and widespread impact of the anti-vaccination movement, it’s no surprise that legislators and academics alike have begun to ask if and how the law can provide a solution to the rising threat. Two potential solutions include enacting legislation, and the law of extra-contractual obligations. Continue reading “Using the Law to Respond to the Anti-Vaccination Movement”