Genetic Testing on Employees

Yesterday my employer did another in a long series of firsts by coming out against the use of genetic data of its employees.

Dear IBMer:
During our lifetimes, the practice of medicine and society's approach to healthcare have changed in fundamental ways. But what lies ahead—perhaps in the next decade alone—seems likely to eclipse that progress dramatically.
Along with any change in an important area of science or society, new and often difficult policy questions inevitably arise. And that's uniquely so for healthcare. Business, government and the research community have a responsibility to address these issues. I am writing today to tell you about an important step that IBM is taking to do so.
Of all the work now taking place across the life sciences, none perhaps has the transforming potential of the pioneering efforts to unlock the secrets of the human genome. IBM is already engaged in many of the technology innovations springing from the revolution in genetics and IT—from “information-based medicine” (which seeks to transform care by marrying genomics with clinical treatment); to our Genographic Project, where we're helping National Geographic to map the scientific history of our genes' migration; to the innovation flowing from our Blue Gene supercomputer.
This work is enormously promising—but it also raises very significant issues, especially in the areas of privacy and security. The opportunity the world has to improve life in the century ahead through genomics-driven, personalized medicine and preventive care will only be realized fully if it also takes into account the protection of genetic privacy. We must make this a priority now.
For that reason, I have signed a revision of IBM's equal opportunity policy, first published by Thomas J. Watson, Jr., in 1953. IBM is formally committing that it will not use genetic information in its employment decisions, a policy we believe is the first of its kind for a major corporation. You should know that IBM does not actively seek to collect genetic information—but at times, and increasingly in the future, employees or their family members may choose to share it, for example, in order to facilitate participation in information-based wellness programs. In anticipation of such circumstances and other situations that we cannot fully anticipate, we are today establishing that business activities such as hiring, promotion and compensation of employees will be conducted without regard to a person's genetics.
It has been IBM's long-standing policy not to discriminate against people because of their heritage or who they are. A person's genetic makeup may be the most fundamental expression of both. So, we are taking this step today because it is the right thing to do—for the sake of the innovation that lies just over the horizon, and because it is entirely consistent with our values and with who we are as a company.
Samuel J. Palmisano
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

There have been news stories about this, but I figure people would actually like to know what the memo said.

Josh Poulson

Posted Tuesday, Oct 11 2005 09:42 AM

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There are 2 comments on this entry.

Thanks I have been wanting to see that for myself.


Posted Tuesday, Oct 11 2005 02:16 PM

Josh, thought you be interested in IBM's Harriet Pearson talking further about the genetic privacy policy on our new healthcare transformation blog, HealthNex...

Jack Mason

Posted Wednesday, Oct 12 2005 09:09 AM

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