Originally published on Advocate.com May 23 2008 12:00 AM ET
President Bush on
Wednesday signed legislation to protect people from
losing their jobs or health insurance when genetic testing
reveals they are susceptible to costly diseases.
in Congress, the antidiscrimination measure aims to
ensure that advances in DNA testing won't end up being used
The new law
forbids employers and insurance companies to deny
employment, promotions, or health coverage to people
when genetic tests show they have a predisposition to
cancer, heart disease, or other ailments.
Bush praised the
bill for protecting ''our citizens from having genetic
Sponsors of the
legislation call it a groundbreaking protection of civil
rights. About a dozen of them gathered in the Oval Office as
Bush signed the bill, but not Sen. Edward Kennedy, to
whom the president paid particular tribute.
learned this week that he has a malignant brain tumor, has
called the genetic antidiscrimination bill ''the first major
new civil rights bill of the new century.'' The
Democratic senator from Massachusetts left the
hospital on Wednesday.
''All of us are
so pleased that Senator Kennedy has gone home, and our
thoughts and prayers are with him and his family,'' Bush
People today have
far more information about their hereditary disposition
to crippling afflictions. Bill sponsors said that has
increased the likelihood that insurers or employers
might deny people work or insurance to avoid costly
''This is a
tremendous victory for every American not born with perfect
genes, which means it's a victory for every single one us,''
said Rep. Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat, one
of the bill's key sponsors. ''Since all of us are
predisposed to at least a few genetic-based disorders,
we are all potential victims of genetic discrimination.''
look for alterations in a person's genes, and abnormal
results can mean that someone has an inherited disorder. The
tests look for signs of a disease or disorder in DNA
taken from a person's blood, body fluids, or tissues.
supported the bill because Americans have been refusing
to take genetic tests or have been using false names and
paying cash because they didn't want the information
used against them by their employer or insurance
The new law
prohibits health insurance companies from using genetic data
to set premiums or determine enrollment eligibility.
already bans discrimination by race and gender.
efforts to protect people from genetic discrimination go
back more than a decade.
can lead to early lifesaving therapy for a wide range of
diseases with hereditary links such as breast and prostate
cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Parkinson's
disease. Yet increasingly, people fear that the data
gleaned from such tests will be used against them.
A 2001 study by
the American Management Association showed that nearly
two thirds of major U.S. companies require medical
examinations of new hires.
probably has six or more genetic mutations that place them
at risk for some disease, according to the National
Human Genome Research Institute.
The House voted
414–1 for the new legislation. The Senate passed it
in a 95–0 vote. (AP)