Congress Passes Bill to Ban Genetic Discrimination

The U.S. Senate has finally acted on the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2007 by approving it with a vote of 95-0. This bill had passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 420-3 last year but languished in the Senate. President Bush supports the bill, and has said that he will sign it. This legislation is long overdue; similar bills to ban discrimination against persons with genetic disorders have been in Congress for the last 13 years.

The bill will bring welcome relief to people who suffer from debilitating genetic disorders, such as Tay-Sachs disease and Cystic Fibrosis, and who have experienced discrimination either from their employers, potential employers, or health insurers. The bill prohibits employers from using genetic information in hiring, firing, pay or promotion decisions. It bars health insurers from requiring clients to submit to genetic testing, and also from rejecting coverage or raising premiums for healthy people based on an inherited genetic predisposition to develop a particular condition.

As I wrote in my April 18, 2008 blog post, the purpose of this law and its New Jersey counterpart is to encourage Americans to take advantage of genetic testing as part of their medical care and protect them from employers who would “screen” them out of jobs based on stereotypes or other false assumptions about genetic disorders. These are laudable, common sense goals and I congratulate the many people and organizations who stood behind this bill and supported it all these years.