AAAS “Encouraged” by Pending U.S. Senate Action on Genetic Discrimination

åääãOfficials at AAAS, the world’s largest general science society, said they are “encouraged and optimistic” about legislation that would help prohibit the misuse of genetic information, if it is approved by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, 14 October.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (S. 1053) is expected to pass by a large, bipartisan majority, said Albert H. Teich, head of the Directorate for Science and Policy Programs at the nonpartisan, nonprofit AAAS.

The legislation seeks to help prevent health insurers and employers from using an individual’s genetic information as a basis for denying access to health coverage or a job, Teich explained.

“The public has hopes for a medical revolution, thanks to the completion of the human genome and related advances in the field of genetics,” Teich said. “But, benefits to human well-being could be lost if people fear that genetic information could be used to discriminate unfairly against them.”

In 1999, AAAS convened a working group to examine the issue of genetic discrimination. The group concluded that “society, in pursuit of the common good, has a responsibility to protect citizens against the misuse of genetic information.” (See www.aaas.org/spp/dser/bioethics/resources/gdiscrim.shtml.)

Senate passage of S. 1053 would be consistent with this conclusion, representing a positive step toward preventing genetic discrimination, Teich said. “Assuming the Senate does pass this legislation as we anticipate,” he added, “it is hoped that the U.S. House of Representatives would then consider similar action.”