Columnist Calls for Genetic Privacy Protection
Dr. Francis Collins and J. Craig Venter, the two scientists who led competing efforts to "crack the genetic code," made a joint appearance in San Diego this week to urge lawmakers to "enact legislation protecting genetic privacy," nationally syndicated columnist Joseph Perkins writes in a Washington Times piece backing such a measure. Collins, director of the government-funded National Human Genome Research Institute, and Venter, founder of the private Celera Genomics, said they fear their "breakthrough" could cause "genetic discrimination." According to Perkins, "Newly developed gene tests can identify patients predisposed to certain diseases for purposes of treatment but also can be used by employers or insurers to deny jobs or health coverage." Earlier this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "ordered" Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Company to cease requiring unionized workers to submit a blood sample when making carpal tunnel syndrome claims. The company had conducted DNA tests on the blood to see if the workers were "genetically predisposed to the condition." In a recent radio address, President Bush said he would "support passage of a law" stopping insurers and employers from using gene tests to "deny certain individuals medical coverage or turn them down for jobs." Calling for such legislation -- as well as for measures to strengthen privacy protections for customers of financial institutions -- Perkins concludes, "It's because of the prospect of genetic discrimination, because of the continued trafficking in confidential financial information, because of myriad other threats to privacy, that the American people are looking to Washington for protection. Lawmakers have to decide whether they stand with the people or with the powerful commercial interests that operate under the premise that the people have no inherent right to privacy" (Perkins, Washington Times, 7/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.