Genetic Discrimination Bill introduced in CA

by jeeg 19. February 2011 01:09

Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) today announced the introduction of Senate Bill 559 which would prohibit discrimination based on genetic information in California. 


“Discrimination on the basis of genetic information is no less offensive than discrimination based on race, gender or sexual orientation,” said Senator Padilla.  “California has a compelling interest in promoting and fostering the medical promise of genomics while relieving the fear of discrimination by strengthening laws to prevent it,” he added.


Deciphering the sequence of the human genome and other advances in genetics create major new opportunities for medical progress in California and beyond.  New knowledge about the genetic basis of illness will allow for earlier detection of illnesses, often long before symptoms have even begun. Genetic testing can allow individuals to take steps to reduce the likelihood that they will contract a particular disorder.


Automation exponentially increases the speed and efficiency of a complete genomic DNA sequence.  What took five years of international effort to produce in the mid-1980’s, can today be completed in two minutes.  Genomic sequencing is fast approaching the point where it will be widely affordable to the general public.   


As more and more Californians gain access to their personal human genome information, there is an increased potential for the misuse of genetic information to discriminate.  In the early 1900’s, the early science of genetics became the basis of state laws that provided for the sterilization of people who had presumed genetic “defects” such as mental retardation, mental disease, epilepsy, blindness, and hearing loss, among other conditions.  The first sterilization law was enacted in Indiana in 1907.  California followed suit in 1909.  Thirty states ultimately enacted such laws that resulted in 64,000 mostly poor, young women being sterilized.  Shamefully, nearly a third of these sterilizations took place in California.  Most of these state laws have since been repealed, and many have been modified to include essential constitutional requirements of due process and equal protection.


Examples of recent genetic discrimination in the workplace include the use of pre-employment genetic screening at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, which led to a court decision that ruled in favor of the employees in that case (Norman-Bloodsaw v. Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory).


While the Federal law, the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), was passed in 2008, its range of genetic information and nondiscrimination protections is incomplete for Californians.  SB 559 would include genetic information as a prohibited basis for discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, education, public accommodations, health insurance coverage, life insurance coverage, mortgage lending, and elections.



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