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House of Representatives backs genetic information non-discrimination Act

1 May 2007
Appeared in BioNews 405

The first coherent US legislation prohibiting genetic discrimination could be law within months. The House of Representatives has passed the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA), which will prevent the public from being disadvantaged on the basis of their DNA. The bill will now progress to the Senate, where a vote in favour is expected.

So far only an inadequate network of laws has protected individuals against such discrimination, meaning that 92 per cent of Americans are concerned that any genetic information organisations have about them could be used in adverse ways. There has been deep concern that health insurers and prospective employers should not be allowed access to the results of genetic tests, carried out to determine whether a person is a risk of a future disease, for fear they use it in a detrimental way.

GINA, passed in the House by 420 votes to 3, prohibits the use of genetic information in discriminatory ways. An employer could not refuse to offer a person a job on the basis that they had a genetic predisposition to a particular disease. The bill would also prohibit health insurers increasing premiums on the basis of tests showing genetic propensity for a disease. GINA has support from the White House, but has been opposed by a leading business lobbying organisation, the US Chamber of Commerce.

It is believed that the current climate of fear could prevent advances being made in genetic research, particularly in the area of personalised medicine. Individuals who are worried about potential repercussions from genetic testing have refused to take part in research trials for fear that the information discovered could be used against them. It is hoped that such research may enable personalised treatment, particularly cancer treatment, which would be based on a person's genetic makeup, and could prove more effective then generic treatment.

Louise Slaughter, the New York Democratic Representative, and Judy Biggert, the Illinois Republican Representative, supported the bill. Ms Biggert stated that the legislation would remove the possibility of a new form of discrimination and would also make people more likely to take part in genetic research and testing. There has also been concern that the lack of protection in law might prevent people from seeking medical treatment when in the early stages of the disease, for fear that the results could harm their employment prospects.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act passes House
Genetics and Public Policy Centre |  25 April 2007
U.S. House backs bill barring genetic discrimination
Reuters |  25 April 2007
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