Baseball's Use of DNA Raises Questions

Confronted with cases of identity and age falsification by Latin American baseball prospects, Major League Baseball is conducting genetic testing on some promising young players and their parents.

Many experts in genetics consider such testing a violation of personal privacy. Federal legislation, signed into law last year and scheduled to take effect Nov. 21, prohibits companies based in the United States from asking an employee, a potential employee or a family member of an employee for a sample of their DNA.


Baseball’s use of DNA information alarmed experts in genetics and bioethics, who said this may be the first instance of such an arrangement since the federal bill, known as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, was passed last year.

“DNA contains a host of information about risks for future diseases that prospective employers might be interested in discovering and considering,” said Kathy Hudson, the director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center and an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University. “The point of GINA was to remove the temptation and prohibit employers from asking or receiving genetic information.”

Read more in The New York Times.

Update: Great thanks to a reader who pointed out that in contrast to what the New York Times news story above suggests, GINA does not prohibit all DNA testing by employers. In an article (pdf) in Hofstra Labor & Employment Law Journal, “The Impact of Emerging Technologies in the Workplace: Who’s Watching the Man (Who’s Watching Me)?” William A. Herbert and Amelia K. Tuminaro explain:

GINA does not, however, prohibit “the use, acquisition, or disclosure of medical information that is not genetic information about a manifested disease, disorder, or pathological condition of an employee or member, including a manifested disease, disorder, or pathological condition that has or may have a genetic basis.”79

Consistent with New York’s statutory scheme, GINA does not explicitly prohibit employers from utilizing DNA testing or results for employee identification purposes.80 The term “genetic test” in GINA is limited to the “analysis of human DNA, RNA, chromosomes, proteins, or metabolites, that detects genotypes, mutations, or chromosomal changes.”81 Testing for DNA sequences for identification purposes are not included in GINA’s definition of genetic testing.82.

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