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Genetic Protections Pass Congress

A bill on its way to the President’s desk will prevent employers and insurance companies from using genetic indicators in hiring or coverage. The President is expected to sign it.

The legislation’s passage could make consumers and patients more willing to have their DNA tested for disease-indicators, which could swing the door wide-open for so-called personalized medicine in which genetic and genomic data is used to tailor treatments. It could be a major win for genomic testing companies like 23AndMe and Navigenics, who are collecting and analyzing unprecedentedly large amounts of genetic information from their clients.

Genetic testing advocates worried that the adoption of testing would be slowed by the lack of government protection. Surveys appeared to back that sentiment with an overwhelming number of Americans saying they wanted their genetic data safeguarded from employers and insurers.

This demonstrates, to me at least, ‘an overwhelming number of Americans’ have very little idea how little protection they actually have when it comes to hiring decisions. Employers can’t refuse to hire someone based on race, religion, etc. We’ll apparently soon add genetic markers to that.

There is not, however, a prohibition on hiring because you’re overweight, unattractive, wear glasses, etc. etc. etc (Ok, technically DC and a few other places actually prevent discrimination based on personal appearance, but still…) Even if there were, there are a staggering number of other reasons you could cite in defense of your practices. If someone doesn’t want to hire you, they’ll find a legally defensible way not to hire you.

Passing more laws won’t get you around that. Unless you pass a law that says the first person to apply automatically gets the job, someone will always be rejected.

Written by Michael Turk