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The BBC's David Concar
"One of the greatest fears about the HGP is that it will lead to a new era of genetic discrimination"
 real 28k

Helena Kennedy, Human Genetics Commission
"The next stage is to look at how the knowledge may be used."
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Saturday, 1 July, 2000, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
Inquiry launched into genome misuse
Could the human genome lead to discrimination?
Government scientists are to conduct a major inquiry into the potential misuse of genetic information - now that the jigsaw of the human genome has been mapped out.

A priority for the Human Genetics Commission will be to determine whether insurance companies should be allowed to base clients' premiums on risks calculated from genetic information.

This could create an underclass of people who will never be employed

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC

The commission, which advises the government on the social impact of developments in genetics, will also investigate the potential for job discrimination based on employees' genetic make-up.

Pilots, for example, could be genetically screened for the likelihood of suffering a heart attack.

The announcement on Monday was hailed as the greatest achievement in human history, comparable to splitting the atom.


The genetic information is expected to revolutionise medicine with the potential for new tests and drugs for previously untreatable diseases.

But US President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair warned against potential misuse in the same breath as welcoming the landmark project.

The two leaders said the genome project raised huge ethical and moral implications and should be exploited only for the good of humankind.

Commission chairwoman Baroness Helena Kennedy QC said issues would arise because of the sensitive and intimate nature of information that can be identified from an individual's genes.

"It enables people to have predictions made about their propensity to disease," she told Radio Four's Today programme.

"There are concerns over where this information is kept and what use it is put to."

One area of concern is protecting the privacy of people who give blood samples for long term research projects.


Government ministers are believed to be concerned about insurance companies using genetic tests to raise premiums if the information suggests possible health problems.

At present, companies only ask for results of tests that have already been taken but there are fears that insurers will insist on genetic tests.

Baroness Kennedy said there would have to be a balance between the interests of the insurers and the human rights of the individual.

She said the genome project also raised employment issues.

She said people may like to know that an airline pilot does not have a propensity towards heart attacks, but genetic testing in other areas could be considered invasive.

"This could create an underclass of people who will never be employed," she said.

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