Genetic information safeguard passes

WASHINGTON (BP)--Congress has adopted with nearly unanimous agreement a bill to prevent insurers and employers from discriminating against Americans based on their genetic information.

It is expected President Bush will soon sign into law the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

The legislation will restrict health insurance companies from using genetic information to deny coverage or charge higher premiums to otherwise healthy people. It also will bar employers from using such knowledge in hiring, firing and other employment decisions.

"I applaud the Congress, both Senate and House, for passing this extremely important legislation to protect the privacy of the genetic information of each individual human being," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "No one should be discriminated against in this society based upon his or her genetic makeup or any genetic markers for debilitating illnesses."

The House of Representatives approved it May 1 in a 414-1 roll call, with Ron Paul, R.-Texas, casting the sole "no" vote; the Senate voted 95-0 for GINA on April 24.

Both the ERLC and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commended Rep. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., for his work in helping make sure the bill includes language outlawing discrimination against parents whose babies in the womb or children being adopted have shown a genetic propensity for some diseases.

Advances in genetic testing have benefited human beings by enabling doctors to prevent or delay afflictions based on the results, but concerns about the use of information by insurers and employers have caused some Americans to reject the tests, the bill's sponsors have said. A test that shows a genetic predisposition for an ailment may cause negative repercussions for an otherwise healthy person in insurance coverage or employment.

When the National Institutes of Health offered women genetic testing for breast cancer risk, nearly 32 percent of those who received the offer refused to be tested because of concerns about insurance discrimination, it was reported in Senate debate in 2005.

The bill's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, first introduced a measure barring genetic discrimination in 1995. The Senate voted unanimously for such legislation in both 2003 and 2005, but the House failed to hold a floor vote both years. The House approved GINA last April before the Senate passed a different version this year.


Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

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