The Federal Liberal Party is torn over a bill that would ban genetic discrimination in Canada. The Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, or Bill S-201, would protect Canadians from being fired or denied insurance coverage based on the results of a genetic test.
The Importance of Genetic Tests
A genetic test analyzes an individual’s DNA and RNA. Today, there are over 48,000 different genetic tests that can identify over 6,000 diseases. Doctors use these tests to diagnose, predict, and monitor a patient’s disease. Researchers use genetic testing to contribute to scientific research and innovation. Many individuals also take commercial genetics tests to uncover hidden facets of their own genealogy.
The information revealed in a genetic test can empower individuals who live with a genetic disease to protect themselves, take preventative measures, or monitor their condition early on. These tests are essential in preventing life-threatening diseases and advancing our understanding of them.
What is Genetic Discrimination?
Canada is one of the few first-world countries that does not protect individuals from genetic discrimination. Gaps in our legal system mean that individuals who choose to have themselves tested can suffer unnecessary and life-altering consequences.
In Canada, an employer can fire a person or refuse to hire them based on the results of a genetic test. Vendors can refuse to provide goods or services to someone on the grounds of a test. This includes insurance companies, who can force applicants to undergo a genetic test and deny them coverage if the test reveals a genetic disease.
Genetic discrimination causes many Canadians forego genetic testing altogether. Parents of young children choose not to have their children tested for fear that they will become uninsurable. Working adults refuse to take part of medical research to keep their employer from demanding to see the results. More and more Canadians are being asked to take a genetic test as a pre-condition for life insurance and disability insurance.
Not only does this expose people to discrimination, but it also needlessly delays the progress of vital medical research.
The Genetic Non-Discrimination Act
The Genetic Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit any person (including corporations and other legal entities) from requiring an individual to undergo a genetic test or disclose the results of a tset as a condition of,
- Receiving goods or services
- Entering into, or continuing, a contract
- Offering specific conditions in a contract
The bill would also amend the Canada Labour Code to protect employees from being forced to undergo or disclose the results of a genetic test. The Canadian Human Rights Act would be amended to prohibit discrimination based on genetic characteristics.
Liberal MP James Cowan introduced the private member’s bill last year. Fellow Liberal Rob Oliphant took up the cause in the House of Commons, urging his colleagues to support the bill.
However, the party is not unanimous in its support. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has expressed concern that the bill intrudes on provincial jurisdictions, since the provinces regulate the insurance industry and most employment sectors. This comes after insurance industry leaders came out strongly against the bill, arguing that ending genetic discrimination would cut into their bottom line and cause insurance premiums to go up.
The final vote on the bill could come as early as March 8.