Sugar and spice and all things nice or slugs and snails and puppy dog tails, whatever boys and girls are made of, we shall soon know the truth. The “draft” human genome has been published.
This is a massive scientific breakthrough and presents huge opportunities. For insurers, the opportunities could include weighting premiums for those genetically disposed to certain illnesses or disabilities. In extreme cases, insurers could refuse to cover certain individuals.
But that would be the wrong way to look at it. The real opportunities are those that help us understand, prevent and cure genetic problems and counsel and support those with as yet incurable conditions.
An insurance industry that simply uses genetic information to weight premiums or exclude people from cover will make itself even less popular with the public.
It is different from other types of weightings. People living in the similar houses in the same street will understand that those without window locks and burglar alarms will pay more for their household insurance than those with security devices fitted. But that is a choice taken by the policyholder. People accept, too, that lifestyle choices, such as smoking or playing dangerous sports, will attract higher premiums. And most right-minded people accept that someone who crashes their car on a weekly basis will very likely be refused insurance.
But an individual's genetic make-up is not something they choose. The public will find it unacceptable for premiums to weighted or cover refused on that basis.
How insurers use the new information available to them will have to be decided carefully. When insurers pulled terrorism cover the Government had to step in and bang heads together. It would be far better for the industry to come up with its own solution because, make no mistake about it, the Government is not going to stand idly by if perhaps hundreds of thousands of people get excluded from the insurance market.
The Government wants more people to protect themselves with insurance instead of relying on the state. Insurers will benefit from that too. A concerted and inclusive industry response to the availability of genetic information could be a great public relations opportunity for the industry. Let's seize it.