By late May, President George W. Bush was expected to have signed into law the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which will prohibit health insurers from canceling or denying coverage or hiking premiums based on a genetic predisposition to a specific disease. The legislation, which sailed through the House and Senate, also bars employers from using genetic data to hire, fire, promote or make other employment-related decisions.
The measure caps more than a decade of political wrangling: Representative Louise Slaughter of New York introduced the first genetic antidiscrimination legislation 13 years ago. In the past, genetic discrimination has played a role in preventing many Americans from obtaining work or seeking health treatments. In the 1970s, for instance, many African-Americans were denied jobs and insurance coverage because they carried a gene for sickle-cell anemia. Physicians now have access to at least 1,000 genetic tests that diagnose or assess the risk of developing potentially life-threatening diseases, including breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson's.