Washington : Under a new law passed this week by the US Congress, it will be illegal for employers and insurance companies to discriminate based on genetic data that can identify risk of future illnesses or other factors.
Only patients and their attending physicians would have access to their private genetic information. The New York Times reported Friday that US President George W. Bush intends to sign the bill into law.
“People know we all have bad genes, and we are all potential victims of genetic discrimination,” said representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York, who first proposed the legislation.
The House of Representatives passed the measure Thursday by a majority vote of 414-to-1. The Senate adopted it unanimously 95-to-0 a week earlier.
Through genetic analysis physicians can determine risk for diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s.
Senator Edward Kennedy referred to the legislation as the first “major new civil rights bill of the new century”.
The law prohibits health insurance companies from using genetic information to determine enrolment eligibility or set premiums. Employers would be restricted from using genetic information to hire and fire or to promote their services.