March 3, 2024


 A bill banning genetic discrimination has sailed through the House of Representatives by a vote of 420-3. The bill already passed the Senate unanimously in 2005 and the White House is supporting it. It will prevent health plans and health insurers from denying coverage to people solely on the basis of a genetic predisposition to a disease. It will also ban employers from using genetic information in hiring, firing, or promoting employees. "There is not a single person on this planet that carries with them perfect genes — every one of us carries a predisposition to illnesses — and therefore we are all vulnerable to genetic discrimination," said a co-sponsor of the bill, Louise Slaughter. The bill is being opposed by the US Chamber of Commerce, a leading business lobby, which says that legislation will only add to the amount of red tape choking business.

Nearly everyone seems opposed to genetic testing because it could be a tool of government or corporate oppression, as in the film Gattaca. However bioethicists Julian Savulescu, an Australian teaching at Oxford, and Bennett Foddy, of the University of Melbourne, have peered into their crystal ball and are rhapsodic about what they see. In an article in the Melbourne Age, they claim that it has immense potential benefits for increasing our range of personal choices. When technology is more developed, these might include: knowledge of genetic diseases, measuring talents and behavioural dispositions, promoting workplace safety and the public interest.

"We can choose to use this immensely valuable information to help people live better lives and remove injustice. Imagine a world in which we give special assistance to those who, through no fault of their own are born with the genetic short straw… Through genetic testing, we could tailor education and support to individual needs. It might mean everyone can have a decent chance of a decent life, regardless of the genetic lottery. No one makes films about that because we don’t fear it. But that world is within our grasp. It is up to us to choose to grasp it."