GENETIC INFO: Federal Agencies Cannot Use in Hiring
President Clinton issued an order yesterday prohibiting federal agencies from using genetic information in any decision to hire, promote or dismiss federal workers, the New York Times reports. The almost three million federal employees will be protected by Clinton's move. Clinton said that while human genome research and individuals' genetic makeup "can transform medical care," misusing such genetic information "can also violate personal privacy." Studies suggest that several individuals have been asked about genetic disease on job applications or that they have been "denied jobs or dismissed from jobs because of genetic conditions in their family." Clinton said, "We must not allow advances in genetics to become the basis of discrimination against any individual or any group. By signing this executive order, my goal is to set an example and pose a challenge for every employer in America, because I believe no employer should ever review your genetic records along with your resume." White House officials made a distinction between genetic information and an actual medical condition or disorder, saying that it might be appropriate for employers to consider current illnesses that could impair a worker's job performance, but "it is not proper to consider a person's predisposition to develop such illnesses." Excepted from the policy are periodic tests that federal agencies sometimes employ to determine if employees had "suffered chromosomal damage or genetic alterations because of exposure to radiation or toxic substances in the workplace" (Pear, 2/9).
On a National Level
Nationwide, few laws exist that prohibit private employers from using gene tests to determine hiring and firing practices. "Congress has already barred insurers writing large group policies from using genetic tests as a basis for discrimination. But that does not apply to some types of insurance, and there are no national rules regulating what private employers can do with gene tests," the Washington Post reports. Now, 30 states have laws that ban genetic information in insurance and some have extended the same policy to employment (Gillis, 2/9). That could change on a national level, as Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) have introduced legislation to prevent private employers and insurers from discriminating on the basis of genetic information. However, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said that with a "tight schedule" in Congress this year, he did not have the bill on schedule for consideration this session (New York Times, 2/9).
Clinton, continuing his support for genetic privacy, yesterday "offered his explicit support for ... that bill." Clinton also asked the FDA and NIH to "hasten a review" of gene therapy tests, saying, "I want to know how we can better ensure that this information about the trials is shared with the public. I want to know whether we need to strengthen requirements on informed consent. If we don't have the full confidence in these trials people won't participate, and then the true promise of genetic medicine will be put on hold" (Washington Post, 2/9).