ACLU Renews Calls for Congress to Ban Genetic Discrimination

February 13, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today renewed its call on Congress to pass comprehensive legislation to protect Americans from genetic discrimination.

“Individuals need clear and comprehensive protections against genetic discrimination in the workplace and in the provision of health insurance,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office. “The current patchwork of state and federal law does not provide needed basic protection against genetic discrimination.”

The Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee today held a hearing to address the failure of current law to safeguard against genetic discrimination. The ACLU has endorsed the “Genetic Nondiscrimination in Health Insurance and Employment Act” (S. 318), introduced by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-SD, which provides the most complete protections against abuse.

Murphy said that Congress should take immediate steps to prohibit genetic discrimination for three reasons. First, it is inherently unfair to discriminate against someone based on unchangeable characteristics that do not limit their ability. Second, genetic tests do not show with certainty that any individual will eventually develop a disease or indicate how severe their symptoms might be. Finally, the threat of genetic discrimination leads individuals to decline genetic screenings and other health services to avoid revealing information that may be used against them.

The “Genetic Nondiscrimination in Health Insurance and Employment Act,” also introduced in the House (H.R. 602) by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, would:

-Prohibit health insurers from restricting enrollment or adjusting fees on the basis of predictive genetic information.

-Bar health insurers and employers from requiring genetic testing and from obtaining predictive genetic information.

-Prevent employers from discriminating based on genetic information in all areas of employment, including hiring and compensation.

“Congress must protect employees from employers or insurance companies who have the opportunity to discriminate based on genetic characteristics,” Murphy said. “The Senate should take a leadership role in passing genetic privacy legislation to protect the health and livelihood of all Americans.”

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