Georgia Lawmaker Wants to Ban Genetic Profiling by Insurers, Employers

February 6, 2007

Georgia state Rep. Ed Setzler says he’s seen a glimpse into the future — and he doesn’t like all he sees.

The Acworth Republican has introduced a bill aimed at outlawing genetic profiling in Georgia by banning businesses, government agencies and schools from using genetic information in hiring and deciding whether to grant a life insurance policy.

“It’s not a fear of the future,” said Setzler, who led a yearlong study of bioprivacy issues. “It’s an obligation of us as leaders to get ahead of the technology, so we can reap the benefits but be ahead of the risks.”

Concerns about genetic profiling have gotten attention from federal lawmakers, who introduced a bill last month in the U.S. House that would prohibit genetic discrimination by health insurance providers and employers. It’s also raised the ire of civil libertarians and privacy advocates such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“It takes the freedom away from the person to be who they want to be,” said Melissa Ngo, staff counsel with the Washington-based group. “The health insurance company or business is saying, ‘You can’t be an office manager because we think you might be an alcoholic 10 years from now.”’

Setzler poses the example of a woman with a genetic disposition for breast cancer who is screened after turning in a job application. “It shouldn’t affect her ability to get a job at all,” he said.

Some technology behemoths have already chimed in on the matter. IBM, for one, promised in October 2005 not to use genetic information to help make decisions on whom to hire and who can join the company’s health plans.

The legislation also would have a broader reach. It would require employers or state agents to present a written notice when trying to get biometric data, such as a fingerprint or DNA. And it would ban anyone from making it mandatory for employees or students to have a microchip implanted in their bodies, similar to legislation enacted in Wisconsin in May.

Setzler’s measure could come to a vote in the Republican-controlled chamber within weeks. Democrats, however, are urging caution.

“Sounds like something we need to study carefully,” said DuBose Porter, the House’s top Democrat. “When you get into the arena of privacy rights, I think we need to be very careful.”


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