Letter published in The Actuary, November 2000 :

Spencer Leigh’s article on genetics and insurance (The Actuary, September 2000) advocates that the profession engage in spin-doctoring (his words) on behalf of the insurance industry. I do not agree that further spin-doctoring is an appropriate role for the profession on this subject, and I object in the strongest possible terms to the spin-doctoring which has already taken place. My disgust and sadness at these activities was the main reason why I resigned last year as principal examiner and from other professional commitments. In the light of these lobbying activities, the notion that work for the profession was a duty which I should feel honoured or obligated to under-take seemed to me increasingly risible.

The article notes that the Alzheimer’s Society recently discovered ‘a breach in office practice’ in relation to the ABI’s genetics code of practice. In fact when the Alzheimer’s Society conducted a survey, it found that most companies surveyed were failing to give effect to the ABI code. A minor reason why this attracted public attention was that the press release which I issued commenting on the matter as an actuary was quoted by the Financial Times.

The profession has produced no evidence to show that insurers’ access to genetic test results either is or will be essential to the financial stability of any type of private insurance. In the absence of evidence, I believe it has promoted a culture of discrimination which may have profound adverse effects (extending far beyond private insurance) upon genetically disadvantaged individuals. In some circles the profession is increasingly (and I regret rightly) seen as systemically hostile towards such individuals. This makes me feel ashamed to be an actuary.

The profession should have nothing to do with articles and speeches attacking the interests of people affected by genetic conditions, or disabled people, or any other socially vulnerable minority. If it persists, the profession must expect embarrassing criticism from members who do not equate actuarial expertise with spin-doctoring for the insurance industry.

Guy Thomas

10 September 2000