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Proposed genetic discrimination law sparks controversy

5 September 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 324

A German government advisory council has recommended a new law to prevent employers from using genetic test results to discriminate against employees, the British Medical Journal reports. However, the National Ethics Council's recommendations have been described as a step backwards by the country's Green Party. All the political parties are agreed upon the need for a genetic discrimination law, following the case of a teacher denied a permanent job because she had a family history of Huntington's disease.

The chairwoman of the committee, Kristiane Weber-Hassemer, said that although genetic tests should not be routinely used, they should be considered for civil servants in safe, lifelong jobs. She also said that such tests should only take place if the results would have an impact on a person's health in the following five years, affecting their suitability for the job. For people who don't have a permanent job, a genetic test result that reveals an increased risk of disease should only be considered by employers if it affects their job suitability in the first six months, the council concluded.

Volker Beck, of the Green Party, said the recommendations were a step backwards, since the government had already agreed in principle to ban predictive genetic testing. However, since a general election has now been called for this month - a year earlier than planned - such a law has not yet been discussed.

Two years ago, a teacher in Germany was refused a permanent job because her father had the genetic disorder Huntington's disease. She opposed genetic testing, and was rejected for a job on the grounds that she was at high risk (50 per cent) of developing the illness herself. The woman successfully fought the decision, and the courts ruled that she should keep her entitlement to a lifelong job.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Plans for genetic testing of German civil servants stirs controversy
British Medical Journal |  3 September 2005
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