At the heart of adverse discrimination lies difference. Many people only feel comfortable with others who appear exactly the same as themselves. Inject an element of differentiation and such people may feel entitled to act in prejudicial and even cruel ways.
Sometimes making distinctions may be justified. A person with a highly contagious disease may need to be isolated for the protection of society and the proper treatment of the individual. But the history of the century now drawing to its close has been one of irrational and unwarranted discrimination. It is still going on. The grounds have included the victim's race, skin colour, gender, disability and sexual orientation. All of these are wholly or partly genetic in origin.
For some people, the fact that an individual did not choose to be different does not matter. Even if the difference is completely irrelevant, it can sometimes affect most seriously the individual and the society concerned.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed fifty years ago, has offered the world a beacon of hope to guide us away from irrational and irrelevant acts of adverse discrimination. But whilst much progress has been made, the abiding challenge of discrimination, grounded in the fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar, remains. Now, at the end of the century, new potentialities for discrimination are presented. They arise from the rapid development of genetic testing which promises to identify more indelible elements of human differentiation upon which adverse discrimination could be based.
Testing human beings for genetic conditions is not entirely new. Pregnant women …