Genetic Fairness Law Signed

President Bush at press time signed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) into law.

NASW has been a strong supporter of the GINA (H.R. 493) (S. 358) because it protects a person from the fear of being discriminated against once his or her genetic makeup is known, said Asua Ofosu, senior government relations associate at NASW.

The association is a member of the Coalition for Genetic Fairness, which has supported the federal GINA bills. Bush was expected to sign the act into law following the House's approval in early May. The Senate unanimously passed the act a week earlier.

According to coalition members, every person carries a handful of genetic anomalies. Today, there are 1,200 genetic tests that can diagnose thousands of health conditions. While this information can be helpful in managing a person's health, it may also be misused and put people at risk for genetic discrimination, coalition members have argued.

The proposed law would prohibit health insurance companies from using genetic information to set premiums or determine enrollment eligibility. Also, employers could not use genetic information in hiring, firing or promotion decisions.

"From sending out action alerts to meeting with members of Congress, NASW has been actively working with our partners at the Coalition for Genetic Fairness and the Genetic Alliance to ensure passage of GINA," Ofosu said. She noted many Americans have forgone genetic testing because of the fear that they or their family members could be discriminated against based on the results.

The Coalition for Genetic Fairness said GINA will be first civil rights law passed by Congress in almost 20 years. "This marks the first time in the history of our country that legislation has been passed to protect against genetic discrimination before it becomes deeply ingrained in the very fabric of our society," said Jeremy Gruber, legal director for the National Workrights Institute, a coalition member.