LONDON (Reuters Health) Feb 07 - Britain has opened the door to possible widespread use of genetic information by insurers without considering the ethical and social implications, researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE) are warning.
In the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine for February, Anna Dixon and colleagues at LSE Health say that the current lack of regulation in the UK allows "strong potential for the improper use of genetic testing data."
They point out that the government's Genetics and Insurance Committee announced last October that it would allow life insurers to use genetic test results for assessing the risk of Huntington's disease.
"Though the announcement was specific to life insurance and Huntington's disease, the committee is already looking at other insurance products, including private medical cover, and other diseases, including breast cancer," Dr. Dixon's group says.
The perceived threat of these decisions might dissuade some individuals from undergoing any genetic tests, the group points out. "Such a deterrent effect, if large, would be devastating for patients, the research community and preventive medicine."
The authors, all experts on healthcare systems, said that the UK now stands alone in its policies towards insurers. In the US, 28 states have either restricted or banned use of genetic data for underwriting purposes. Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and France have also imposed legal restrictions on insurers' use of genetic test information.
Dr. Dixon's group says that in the UK, ethical issues surrounding genetic tests come under the remit of the new Human Genetics Commission, but "so far the insurance industry has made no pledges to abide by its decisions."
J Royal Soc Med 2001;94:57-60.
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