Activists Push to Ban Gene-Based Bias

By Lemke, Tim | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 28, 2001 | Go to article overview

Activists Push to Ban Gene-Based Bias


Lemke, Tim, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Influential leaders in the medical and legal fields issued strong support for a bill pending in the Senate that would outlaw discrimination based on genetic information.

Their efforts come amid rapid advancements in the field of genetic research.

"The public is deeply fascinated with this research, but they are very concerned that it will be used against them in health care or in the workplace," said Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Collins was speaking at a forum on genetic research hosted by the Senate Biotechnology Caucus, co-chaired by Sens. Christopher Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, and Tim Hutchinson, Arkansas Republican. He was joined by Dr. Gualberto Ruano, CEO of Gennaissance Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Suzanne Doggett, an area lawyer and activist for Huntington's Disease Research; and Judi Hirschfield-Bartek, an oncology nurse and breast cancer activist from Boston.

It was the second such forum for the relatively new caucus, formed as a result of the many privacy, health insurance and discrimination issues that have been raised as advancements in genetic testing continue to make headlines.

"We know that employment discrimination is out there," Dr. Collins said. "There's evidence of that."

Dubbed the Nondiscrimination in Health Insurance and Employment Act, the Senate bill could be put into effect by October of 2002, almost exactly two years after Dr. Collins and other scientists successfully mapped the human genome. The bill has generated strong bipartisan support; more than one-third of the Senate are members of the caucus.

Both Mr. Dodd and Mr. Hutchinson stressed the importance of ensuring that laws keep up with technology advancements, particularly in the area of health care and workplace discrimination.

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