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Last Updated: Friday, 30 January, 2004, 10:39 GMT
Insurers 'should see gene tests'
Blood in test tube
Blood tests could reveal future diseases
The results of tests for genetic diseases should be made available to insurance firms, say doctors.

Writing in the Lancet medical journal, the University of East Anglia experts say it is unlikely the findings would be misused to treat customers unfairly.

A five-year moratorium on the use of data this way runs out in 2006.

Some patient groups say that the fear of being denied insurance might lead to delays in seeking treatment for possibly hereditary conditions.

There is suspicion that the obligation to hand over test details might effectively create a "genetic underclass" who find it difficult or far more expensive to take out mortgages or life insurance policies.

While the number of conditions which can be revealed by gene testing remains limited at present, there is the expectation that within a decade, much more will be known about hereditary factors at play in heart disease, stroke and many types of cancer.

'Unfair'

Such tests would not give a conclusive result, but perhaps suggest a small additional percentage risk.

The academics, however, argue that it is unfair to permit the disclosure of non-genetic tests, for example cholesterol tests, while banning mention of a gene test which might indicate a similar rise in risk.

Those with a family history of a disease already face a difficult decision about getting information from genetic tests without this extra anxiety
Dr Helen Wallace, Genewatch
Dr Nick Raithatha said: "Our contention is that this situation is unjustifiable.

"In terms of fairness, this test (gene test) needs to be dealt with in a similar manner to other tests required by insurance companies."

However, Dr Helen Wallace, of Genewatch - a science policy group with an interest in genetic issues - said: "Those with a family history of a disease already face a difficult decision about getting information from genetic tests without this extra anxiety.

"The insurance industry claims if it doesn't press for this information, it could be cheated by customers who use it to take out extra cover.

"But there has never been any evidence for this."


SEE ALSO:
Gene 'raises heart attack risk'
04 Jan 04  |  Health
Scientists find diabetes 'gene'
31 Dec 03  |  Health
Test 'helps tailor cancer care'
30 Oct 03  |  Health


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