Even a decade ago, the idea of genetic discrimination sounded like science fiction. Today, it’s a reality Canadian law could soon address.
It is increasingly easy to have your personal genome sequenced and analyzed for genetic markers. There are now relatively simple tests that can determine if an individual is likely to develop Alzheimer’s, certain kinds of cancer, or inherited conditions like sickle cell anemia or cystic fibrosis. That kind of information could be very powerful in the hands of the right person, or the wrong person.
That’s why Canada’s senate is studying a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate on someone based on their genetic information.
Denying someone disability insurance because they have a genetic marker for Parkinson’s disease? Illegal. Denying someone health insurance because they have a genetic marker for a rare heart condition? Illegal. Or at least that’s how it ought to be, the bill argues.
The bill would also make it illegal to force someone to undergo a genetic test, or submit the results of a genetic test, before entering into any kind of contract. It would do all of this with amendments to the Labour Code and the Human Rights Act.
“I’m hopeful that it will receive all-party support,” Liberal Senator James Cowan told the Huffington Post. “I don’t see it at all as a partisan issue.”
Cowan is the man who put forward the bill in the hopes of ensuring that basic human rights aren’t trampeled just because some people now have a glimpse of their potential future.
As Canada.com explored in our video project earlier this week, the amount of information modern genetic tests can yeild, at a relatively low cost, is surprisingly high.
For $200, anyone can have their genome sequenced and tested for dozens of known markers. The company can even keep that information on file and provide more insight as we learn more about the human genome and what each sequence of DNA actually does.
In October, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien, recognized that insurers have good reason to want this information when offering someone coverage.
“The [insurance] industry believes it needs access to all existing genetic test results to ensure a level playing field in terms of knowledge between both parties of a good faith contract,” he said. “Bill S-201 recognizes the overriding societal benefits of protecting applicants’ right to privacy and of providing all persons with insurance coverage regardless of their genetic heritage.”
The bill has been before the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights since early this summer, after it passed second reading in the Senate. It still needs to go through the House of Commons.
William Wolf-Wylie, Canada.com