GINA and Major League Baseball


Before spring training begins, Major League Baseball needs to straighten out its problem with GINA. Baseball can’t seem to stay away from controversy. From steroid abuse to human growth hormones, from corked bats to betting scandals, America’s national sport is getting a black eye. The most recent problem involves DNA testing of young prospects and their parents. That’s where GINA comes in.

GINA stands for the “Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act,” which took effect in November 2009. The law prohibits certain kinds of discrimination based on genetic tests. Health insurers cannot demand a genetic test before insuring you, and they can’t raise your premiums based on a genetic test. GINA also is fairly specific that employers cannot use this kind of information in deciding whether to hire, fire, or promote an employee.

This is the conundrum that MLB faces. When a team signs a young player from, for example, the Dominican Republic, the multi-year contract is based on an assumption about the player’s age, and when he will peak. A 16-year-old will peak several years later, while a 22-year-old may have already reached his prime. Before #1 rookie Miguel Sano was signed in 2009 by the Minnesota Twins, the 6-foot-3, 16-year-old was scrutinized carefully. In countries where birth certificates may be “borrowed” to make a player appear younger than he is, age testing is a hot item.

In fact, after the September 11 attacks, the US government began taking a closer look at visa requirements. They found that more than 300 major and minor league players had falsified their birthdates.

A DNA test cannot show a person’s age, but it can confirm that he is the child of the parents he claims on his birth certificate. (Bone scans are used to confirm age.) But it is the other results of the DNA test that have GINA defenders worried.

DNA tests can tell whether you have genes linked to any of dozens of diseases. Should Major League Baseball have access to that information? GINA says “no.”

This is where privacy of genetic information comes in. It’s one thing to agree to be tested to confirm your identity and age. This is information you already know. It’s another thing to find out potentially distressing genetic information for the first time. Can all the people who have access to test results be trusted not to use it against you? What if the player has a gene for a disease that could possibly shorten his baseball career? In the meantime, he might make a significant difference in the lives of others. What if Lou Gehrig was rejected by Major League Baseball because of his “bad genes”?

As Christians, we know that DNA is one more confirmation that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” And, there are legitimate reasons for DNA testing, such as in criminal investigations and by the military for identification of remains. But to keep you out of baseball, or a job, or health insurance? That’s discrimination, and an invasion of privacy.

GINA got it right. Major League Baseball struck out on this one.



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