The stigma of disease: implications of genetic screening

Am J Med. 1992 Aug;93(2):209-15. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(92)90052-d.


As the field of human genetics successfully continues to unravel the secrets of an individual's genetic makeup, the social processes of stigmatization and ostracism of those with "undesirable" traits have the potential to increase. An historical example that may shed light on the problems of applying genetic technology to disease prevention is the institution of quarantine. This essay discusses the concept of "quarantine mentality" and the desire for healthy society to separate itself from those labeled "ill" or abnormal, and addresses two episodes in American history when genetics was applied to the formulation of social policy toward the "diseased": the eugenics movement of the early 20th century and the early attempts of genetic screening programs for sickle cell anemia during the 1970s.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / diagnosis
  • Emigration and Immigration / history
  • Eugenics
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn
  • Genetic Testing / history
  • Genetic Testing / psychology*
  • Health
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Mandatory Programs
  • Prejudice*
  • United States
  • Vulnerable Populations