Genetic Discrimination to be Banned


In the futuristic 1997 film Gattaca , people are held to strict genetic standards for employment; well-qualified individuals are refused jobs soley on the basis of genetic information. Automated DNA typing is used as a biometric identification method to restrict entry to office buildings (in place of an ID badge). The film dramatizes the concerns that many people have about the possibility that genetic information, like inborn susceptibility to disease, could be held against them when job-seeking, or when looking for insurance.

Some of these concerns can now be laid to rest. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act passed by a vote of 420-3 in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. The act makes it illegal to deny someone health insurance or job opportunities based on genetic information taken from their DNA .

The chief sponsor of the bill, Representative Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY) introduced a similar bill twelve years ago. There have been repeated instances in which employers have discriminated against people with family histories of sickle cell anemia, Huntington's disease, as well as various forms of cancer.

A poll conducted by the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins indicates that people have a wide variety of concerns:

... individual patients who could benefit from genetic testing are in some cases foregoing it out of concern over possible repercussions. A 2004 study of 470 people with a family history of colorectal cancer showed that nearly half rated their level of concern about genetic discrimination as high. Those individuals with high levels of concern indicated that they would be significantly less likely to consider even meeting with a health care professional to discuss genetic testing, or to undergo testing.

The act also has the support of the White House; a statement issued on behalf of the President stated "Concern about unwarranted use of genetic information threatens the utilization of existing genetic tests as well as the ability to conduct further research."

The act makes clear that genetic discrimination is criminalized in the same way as other forms of discrimination. Also, the confidentiality of genetic information is covered by the same provisions that cover the rest of the medical record.

This act does not mean that your DNA will not be recorded; see these articles for proposed uses:

Read the text of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act; via ABC News and an earlier post from Wired.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission from - where science meets fiction.)

Bill Christensen catalogues the inventions, technology and ideas of science fiction writers at his website, Technovelgy. He is a contributor to Live Science.