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Genetic Testing

April 25, 2008

Congress is moving to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination based on genetic testing for diseases, including mental illness—a bill which President Bush has promised to sign.

On April 24, the U.S. Senate passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) by a vote of 95-0. The House of Representatives is expected to add approval quickly. A Los Angeles Times article quotes Sen. Edward Kennedy (MA) hailing the bill as “the first civil rights bill of the new century of life sciences.”

Using modern technology, genetic testing represents the hope of identifying a person’s risk of developing specific illnesses so that steps can be taken to prevent them. However, people also have feared that testing could lead to denial of employment or health insurance. GINA applies to individual health insurance policies, prohibiting employers and health insurers from discriminating based on genetic tests. Federal law already covers group insurers.

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