Genetic Non-Discrimination Bill Moves Forward

By: Sarah Batista
By: Sarah Batista

Juli Zavacky has lived with diabetes for six years and her family has a history of colon cancer. While applying for life insurance, she told the carrier about her medical history. They looked the other way.

"They said to me, I can't tell you that we won't give you this type of life insurance, but I can tell you many diabetics have applied in the past and they were denied," said Zavacky.

Juli's situation is an example of something called genetic discrimination- obtaining a person's medical history and then using it against them. It's a practice sometimes used by health insurance carriers and employers to weed out people with illnesses or family medical problems.

"They might decide, they don't want someone with a propensity of developing a particular type of disease, let's say cancer, because they feel they won't be a long-term employee or they'll miss a lot of work," said Paul Lombardo, Ph.D, J.D., a professor at UVa's Center for Biomedical Ethics.

Juli says its unfair.

" I would never put myself in a bad health situation and yet I am being punished for something that is not under my control," she said.

The genetic nondiscrimination bill was passed in the Senate 98-0 on Thursday, February 17th. If it becomes law, it would help crack-down on those type of practices. However, legislatures are reluctant to make it law.

"One would think they would go ahead and pass a law that would prevent it; insurance lobbies are very strong, as are other lobbies in the health care arena, and I can only conclude they don't want this to happen," said Lombardo.

But people like Juli, a victim of genetic discrimination, want it to become law.

"I don't think anything should limit what you're allowed to possess or pursue," she says.

The bill must now be approved by the House before it can become law.

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