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President Urges Congress to Pass Genetic Nondiscrimination Legislation

Location: Washington, DC

President Urges Congress to Pass Genetic Nondiscrimination Legislation

In a meeting with cancer researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) today, President Bush urged Congress to pass a bill that will ban employers and health insurers from discriminating on the basis of genetic testing results.

"I am delighted that the President is raising the profile on this important health issue," said Biggert, who was the chief sponsor and now the lead Republican cosponsor of genetic non-discrimination legislation.

The President's meeting focused on how breakthroughs in genetic research can lead to cures for many diseases.

"If a person is willing to share his or her genetic information, it is important that that information not be exploited in improper ways," Mr. Bush said. "And Congress can pass good legislation to prevent that from happening. We want medical research to go forward without an individual fearing personal discrimination," he said.

The President's remarks follow Tuesday's reintroduction of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, H.R. 493, which will prohibit the improper use of genetic information in the workplace and insurance decisions. Identical to the bill Biggert introduced, H.R. 1227, during the last Congress, H.R. 493 was introduced by Democratic Rep. Slaughter with Mrs. Biggert as the lead Republican Cosponsor. The Senate passed an identical bill, S.306, during the last Congress.

Statistics clearly show that Americans fear being fired from their jobs or losing their health insurance if they undergo a genetic test or participate in a genetic clinical trial at NIH.

"We will never unlock the great promise of the Human Genome Project if Americans are too paranoid to get genetic testing," said Biggert. "Without the protections offered by H.R. 493, these fears will persist, research at NIH will slow, and Americans will never realize the benefits of gene-based medicines."

During the last Congress, Biggert's bill, H.R. 1227, had 244 Republican and Democrat cosponsors. The new version of the bill, H.R. 493 was introduced with 143 bipartisan original cosponsors. An identical bill is scheduled for mark-up in the Senate on January 24th.

On average, individuals carry dozens of genetic mutations. Thanks to new technologies resulting from the government's investment of $3.7 billion in the Human Genome Project, there are over 1,000 predictive genetic tests that can determine if an individual has a high or low risk of suffering from specific diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's.

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