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Ban on genetic bias is passed by House

May 02, 2008|Jonathan D. Rockoff | Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday backed legislation barring the use of genetic information in job and health insurance decisions, moving the government to the cusp of enacting the first federal law dealing with DNA-based medical care.

"It really is the law catching up to science," said Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), who helped lead the 13-year fight for the legislation. The House approved it by a vote of 414 to 1, with Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul the lone dissenter. Last week, the Senate unanimously passed the bill.

The legislation, which President Bush is expected to sign into law, would bar employers from hiring, firing or placing an employee based on test results indicating a propensity to develop a disease.

It would also prohibit insurance companies from denying or canceling coverage based on the information.

Ever since scientists mapped the human genome, the growing body of knowledge has offered the promise of making medical care more preventive and effective.

But doctors said patients had refused to learn their risk of developing a disease -- or find out the proper drug dose -- for fear employers would use the genetic test results against them.

"It really has been this fear of discrimination that has been the largest barrier, we think, to widespread acceptance of genomic medicine," said Dr. Alan E. Guttmacher, deputy director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Potential test subjects cited the same concerns in refusing to participate in research, setting back work that could lead to better treatment of diabetes, heart disease and other common conditions, scientists said.

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