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With the issue already in the courts, lawmakers on Thursday moved to build momentum behind legislation to prohibit employers and insurance companies from using people’s DNA to discriminate in hiring, promotions or health care coverage. “The science of genetic testing is progressing rapidly. The problem is that the law is not,” said Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in his first appearance promoting a specific bill since becoming Senate majority leader Wednesday. New genetic research may make it possible to identify an individual’s lifetime risk for cancer, heart attack and other diseases. Lawmakers worry that this information could be used to discriminate against people. “Medical breakthroughs in recent years on the genetic basis of disease give us an extraordinary opportunity to improve the health of millions of Americans,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and the new chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “Without this legislation, the blessings of new science will be a curse.” The senators argued that employers and insurers could discriminate against job applicants and deny insurance coverage to people who are deemed to be at greater risk of developing chronic disease, based on genetic testing. “Discrimination based on genetic factors is just as unacceptable as discrimination based on race, gender, national origin or disability,” Daschle said. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said the bill now has 250 members of the House behind it. Daschle said hearings could be scheduled in the Senate before the August recess. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed its first lawsuit challenging genetic testing earlier this year in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Iowa. The suit alleges Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad of Fort Worth, Texas, conducted genetic testing on employees without their permission. A survey of 2,133 employers this year by the American Management Association of New York found that seven are using genetic testing for either job applicants or employees, according to the journal, Science. “As genetic testing becomes more affordable and more common, the incidence of discrimination is likely to increase dramatically,” Daschle said. The Senate passed a similar measure last year as part of an appropriations bill but the provision was later removed. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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