Letter: Twins take terror out of clone debate

Sir: Professor Richard Dawkins ("What your genes reveal about you", 24 February) is quite right to chide Polly Toynbee for underestimating the influence of genes upon our physical health and intelligence.

He is correct, too, in pointing out that environmental factors may interact with genes to produce either enhanced effects or perhaps "double jeopardy".

However, he implies that if insurance companies are aware of the genetic characteristics of lives proposed for insurance, the inevitable result would be a double loss. First an individual loses out because the genetic make-up is perverse; then, says Professor Dawkins, this is compounded by being refused insurance.

There is another scenario which Professor Dawkins ignores. If people are shown to have deleterious genes, there can first be a consideration of any positive intervention to prevent future problems. Next, the option of private insurance (on a commercial basis) may still be possible.

Finally - the element missed out by Professor Dawkins - is that our society might strive to ensure that people with such genetic problems are not disadvantaged. If the community was prepared to support people who could not do this themselves, whether by insurance or other means, then the double jeopardy of having, for example, a gene predisposing to early onset cancer, would not occur. Society, not just insurers, could take responsibility.


Professor of Clinical Genetics, Nottingham University

The writer is part-time, independent genetics adviser to the Association of British Insurers.