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Genetic discrimination US ban

28th April 2008

Lawmakers in the United States have voted unanimously to ban discrimination on the basis of people's genetic details.

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The proposal, which passed in the Senate 95-0, still needs approval from the House of Representatives before it becomes law.

Under the new rules, only patients and their doctors would be allowed to access data obtained through genetic testing.

The new proposal seeks to rule out access to such sensitive information by employers, unions and health insurance companies.

One Democratic politician has called it the first new civil rights bill of the new century.

Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy said that discrimination based on a person's genetic identity was just as unacceptable as discrimination on the basis of race or religion.

Under the bill, health insurers would be forbidden to refuse coverage or raise premiums for healthy people based on genetic information.

Employers would be banned from using genetic information to make decisions about hiring, firing, promoting or compensating their employees, while insurers would not be allowed to require people to take tests which might show a predisposition to a disease.

Health insurers and the White House have already backed the bill, but some business interests, including the US Chamber of Commerce, are against it.

It is believed that, with such protection in place, more people are likely to come forward and take genetic tests that might save their lives.

Genetic testing can point to therapy for cancer, diabetes and heart disease, which often have a genetic component.

Researchers completed the mapping of the human genome in 2003, making available an unprecendented amount of information about genetic predisposition to illnesses.

Lawmakers say the legislation is unique and groundbreaking because it is moving to prevent discrimination before it has taken place.

Senator Olympia Snowe, the bill's Republican sponsor, said genetic tests currently available would be absolutely useless if people were too afraid to take them because of the threat of discrimination.

Insurance companies will still be able to charge higher premiums for people who are already sick or have a pre-existing condition, however.

The bill is expected in the House next week, and will go to the White House to be signed into law if it passes there.


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