Thalassemia gene carriers argue against discrimination

By Qiu Quanlin (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-12 08:05
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FOSHAN, Guangdong - The second trial of three job applicants who were denied jobs because they carry the thalassemia gene opened on Wednesday, in what is believed to be the country's first case of job discrimination because of the gene.

The three, surnamed Tang, Xie and Zhou, were denied civil servant jobs by Foshan human resources and social security departments last year because they were diagnosed as thalassemia gene carriers after passing written tests and interviews.

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The Chancheng District Court in Foshan, Guangdong province, rejected their appeal after their first trial in early June, claiming that carrying the thalassemia gene is regarded as having a blood disease.

The Foshan Intermediate People's Court has yet to give a verdict, but is required to do so within two months, according to Huang Yizhi, the trio's lawyer.

The three applicants did not appear in court on Wednesday.

However, outside the court, some students held banners and slogans to protest job discrimination of thalassemia gene carriers.

"After four years of study, every student should have the same opportunity for jobs," said a student who declined to be named.

The second trial still focuses on whether thalassemia should be known as a blood disease, according to Huang.

Under the general physical examination standard of civil servant enrollment, applicants will be denied the job if they develop anemia, a condition caused by various mineral and vitamin deficiencies. Symptoms can include fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and difficulty concentrating.

"It is unfair to deny them job opportunities since their physical checkup report shows they do not have a blood disease condition," Huang said.

According to regulations, a man will be diagnosed with thalassemia if his hemoglobin (HGB) is lower than 120 g/L. "But how can they be seen as thalassemia patients? They are only carriers, with HGB higher than the minimum level," Huang told China Daily.

Some 31 students who were diagnosed as thalassemia gene carriers were refused civil servant jobs by Foshan human resources authorities last year, according to Xie, one of the three plaintiffs.

They were asked by the Foshan personnel department to undergo a physical examination after they passed tests and interviews last April.

Xie also did not pass the physical tests because he is a carrier of the thalassemia gene.

"But the relevant regulation for civil servant jobs does not specify that thalassemia gene carriers cannot pass the physical test," Xie had said in an earlier interview.

Of the 31 applicants who were denied civil servant jobs, 27 are natives of Guangdong province, which is one of the provinces with the highest rates of thalassemia.

In Guangdong, one in nine people, or about 12 percent of its population, have developed thalassemia, a form of chronic anemia, according to the Guangzhou-based Southern Hospital.

"Thalassemia gene carriers with light symptoms usually do not develop physical signs. In reality, they are no different from others in terms of working and living," said Li Chunfu, a doctor with the hospital.