The Genetic Information
Nondiscrimination Act passed Congress last week and President Bush is expected
to sign it into law.
"Since each of us has dozens of genetic variations
that may put us at risk for disease, we all would have had a reason to be concerned
about the possible misuse of genetic information," the director of the National
Human Genome Research Institute, Francis Collins, said in a statement.
this act, Americans won't have to worry about their jobs or their health insurance
being taken away because of the genes they inherited."
The new law, which is similar to
federal law that makes race and gender discrimination illegal, encourages Americans
to undergo genetic testing by alleviating the fear that the results could be used
against them during hiring or insurance applications.
Genes are made up of DNA molecules, which act as blueprints for the body.
Genes are inherited DNA
blueprints with instructions for building an organism. Scientists identified all
of the tens of thousands of human genes through the government-funded Human Genome
Project in 2003. The project was led by the Department of Energy and took 13 years
Now that scientists have mapped the human genome, they are
working to identify specific genes linked to all sorts of medical problems, and
develop new therapies and treatments.
"We are in the midst of a deluge
of discovery, and a very exciting one, about genetic risk factors for diabetes,
for heart disease, for cancer, for asthma, for high blood pressure, all of these
conditions that have been pretty mysterious. And that's going to put us in a position,
if we're interested, in finding out our own situation to plan prevention better,"
Collins said on the NewsHour.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y, who co-sponsored
the bill, said that people should get genetic testing done "right away"
after the bill becomes law, the AP reported.
Without this new law, people were
discouraged from learning about their genetic code because finding a gene linked
to a disease might dissuade an employer from hiring them or a health insurer from
providing health insurance.
Genetic testing can help people discover if they have certain gene mutations that
make them more likely to get diseases like cancer.
In fact, there are examples from the 1970s of black
men denied jobs or health coverage because they had a family history of sickle-cell
anemia, according to Scientific American Magazine.
Genetic testing can
be more specific than family history about the chances of inheriting a wide range
of diseases, making the opportunities for such discrimination much greater.
to the National Human Genome Research Institute's Web site, each person probably
has six or more genetic mutations that increase the risk of developing a disease.
with information about their specific genetic makeup, people may be able to prepare
for, prevent or treat diseases. However, such knowledge does not come without
a host of tough questions.
Sharon Terry, president of the Genetic Alliance,
a group for people with genetic conditions which supported the bill, told the
New York Times that Americans will have to deal with complicated genetic discrimination
issues as they have had to with race and gender issues.
"Do we as
a society start to make decisions like, 'I don't want kids who are going to get
arthritis or who aren't going to be great basketball players?' This is only the
beginning," she told the Times.