DNA: US legislates, why not Australia?

A bill prohibiting discrimination and bias by health insurers and employers based on people’s genes has passed both Houses of the US Congress by a vote of 509-1. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act is a powerful shield for Americans. Meanwhile, protection in Australia remains limited, even after a major Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry. CLA member and ANU Science/Law graduate-in-waiting, Karlie Brown, analyses the Australian situation in detail in relation to employees.

DNA bias goes largely unprotected in Australia

7 May 08:

The legislation enacted in America in May 2008 is a very different approach to what is happening in Australia, dual ANU graduate-to-be in Science and Law, Karlie Brown writes.

"In 1998 Democrat Senator Natasha Stott Despoja introduced the Genetic Privacy and Non-Discrimination Bill.  In 1999, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee reported on the Bill, recommending a national working party to examine the issues. This led to the ALRC/AHEC* Inquiry into the Protection of Human Genetic Information.

Their examination resulted in the ALRC Essentially Yours report No 96 in 2003. That report aimed to deal with all of the issues raised (including genetic discrimination) by making small changes, wherever possible, to existing systems of legislation and regulation rather than creating whole new structures. Some of the recommendations dealt with anti-discrimination issues…the state of implementation of those recommendations is at: http://www.alrc.gov.au/inquiries/title/alrc96/implementation.htm

"Basically, 144 recommendations were made, and in 2005 the federal government released its response but, despite its accepting many of the recommendations, implementation has been limited. Given the ALRC approach of 2003 and the recommendations accepted by the government, any large-scale legislative framework to be introduced in Australia will need a major catalyst. More likely governments will keep making small changes as the need arises," Ms Brown says.

This is an occasion where Australia should follow the USA’s lead, and quickly, CLA believes.

Click for Karlie Brown’s paper.

ALRC/AHEC: Australian Law Reform Commission/Australian Health Ethics Committee

USA legislation report:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/02/health/policy/02gene.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin

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