Symposium Highlights Need for Federal Genetic Nondiscrimination Legislation

The prevention of genetic diseases affecting the Jewish population was the topic of a recent symposium held in Philadelphia, PA. The good news is that genetic testing for deadly and disabling diseases such as Tay-Sachs and Cystic Fibrosis has improved substantially in the last several years, as have efforts by religious and community leaders to raise the awareness of Jewish couples who are at risk of passing on the genes for these disorders to their children. The bad news is that the law has lagged behind the science in this area. Federal legislation which would prevent discrimination on the basis of genetic information has stalled in the United States Senate. The bill, entitled the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2007, passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 420-3 last year. President Bush also supports the bill. It appears to have strong bipartisan support. So what’s the hold up?

Here in New Jersey, our Law Against Discrimination prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of genetic information, or on the basis of an employee’s refusal to submit to a genetic test, or on an employee’s refusal to make available the results of a genetic test to an employer. Federal genetic nondiscrimination law would make similar prohibitions mandatory in all fifty states. The purpose of these laws is to encourage Americans to take advantage of genetic testing as part of their medical care and protect them from employers who would “screen” them out of jobs based on stereotypes or other false assumptions about genetic disorders. Does anyone have a problem with these goals? Please urge your U.S. Senator to act on the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2007.