Beryllium Screening Raises Ethical Issues

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Science  09 Jul 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5425, pp. 178-179
DOI: 10.1126/science.285.5425.178b

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An analytical chemist who has been removed from his job after testing positive for a genetic variation that causes a small percentage of people exposed to the metal beryllium to develop an incurable and sometimes fatal lung disease spoke about his plight at a 24 June meeting on the ethical problems of conducting workplace health studies. His case illustrates the problems of using a test without clear benefits to those taking it, one that not only produces lots of "wrong" answers but that also monitors a condition that cannot be treated until symptoms appear. Epidemiologists say the value of a robust database must be weighed against the psychological impact of a positive test, the threat to an individual's health insurance, and the disruption at work.