March 26, 1997

Medical Conservatism and Molecular Genetics

Author Affiliations

Flushing Hospital Medical Center Flushing, NY

JAMA. 1997;277(12):962. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540360030017

To the Editor.  —In "The Effect of Medical Conservatism on the Acceptance of Important Medical Discoveries,"l Dr Martensen reviews the pressure applied by insurance companies in the 1880s to further the routine use of urinalysis to screen for life insurance prospects likely to succumb to nephropathy. The physicians' response at the time put an end to the effort to discriminate against poor-risk candidates on the basis of abnormal urinalysis findings. The analogy with today's molecular medicine advances, their potential for unethical use of information, and the stereotyped reactions from insurance companies is stressed by the author.However, there is an issue in Martensen's argument that eludes his analogy and, at the same time, strengthens and complicates his position. Medical science has thus far occupied itself with structures and functions of the human body, its interactions with other forms of life, and the application of natural laws—in general