Study on genetic discrimination points to concerns

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Study on genetic discrimination points to concerns

There is growing pressure to upgrade anti-discrimination legislation to cover misuse of genetic testing generally and in work-related contexts.

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There is growing pressure to upgrade anti-discrimination legislation to cover misuse of genetic testing generally and in work-related contexts.
 
Australians undergoing genetic testing need greater protection, researchers say, after they discovered alleged cases of discrimination involving life insurance and workers compensation claims.
 
The world-first Australian study of more than 1000 who used genetic testing services revealed 11 were discriminated against because of their family history or their results.
 
The reported incidents of genetic discrimination included nine cases related to life insurance applications and one workers compensation claim.
 
People were identified by genetic testing to be carrying a faulty gene that made them susceptible to breast cancer, ovarian cancer, Lynch syndrome, hereditary hemochromatosis, adult-onset polycystic kidney disease and Huntington's disease.
 
In two cases, genetics health professionals intervened and reversed an ‘adverse’ insurance decision.
 
Employees susceptible
 
The University of Tasmania director of the Centre for Law and genetics, Margaret Otlowski, said while most Australian employers are not currently using genetic information to monitor current or prospective employees, it could happen in the near future.
 
‘At least some employers would be interested in using genetic testing in future if it were inexpensive and accessible,’ she said.
 
Currently, it is unlawful to discriminate against employees because of their genetic make-up, except in very rare circumstances.
 
A 2003 inquiry conducted by the Australian Law Reform Commission, recommended employers be able to collect and use genetic information in limited circumstances such as where it is directly relevant to the discharge of their obligations to protect employees and third parties from serious health or safety dangers.
 
Insurers
 
Otlowski said more transparency about insurers decisions was also needed.
 
Insurers may be exempt from discrimination laws if their decision is based on ‘scientifically sound’ evidence.
 
The study was part of a five-year genetic discrimination project funded by the Australian Research Council and will be published in the Genetics in Medicine journal soon.
 
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