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Senator blocks US genetic discrimination legislation

13 August 2007
Appeared in BioNews 420

Proposed legislation geared to protect individuals in the US against genetic discrimination has been blocked by Senator Tom Coburn, who is concerned over it's 'lack of precision' and 'unintended consequences' if the bill becomes law. The Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA) would make it illegal for employers to take into account genetic information in the hiring, firing or promotion of employees. In placing the hold, Senator Coburn, who voted in favour of an almost identical bill last year, says he is not against the principles behind GINA but that he wants to make it harder for employees to sue their employers and claims the definition of 'genetic tests' in the bill is inconsistent in relation to employers and insurers.

GINA was passed by the House of Representatives in April this year by 240 votes to 3 and President Bush has indicated that he will approve the bill if it reaches his desk. If GINA passes in the Senate, the new laws will mean that 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.

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.

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.

US genetics bill blocked again
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