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Genome milestone or millstone for the masses?

The announcement that scientists have unravelled the human genetic code has fuelled politicians&#39 concernsabout insurance companiesusing genetic informationto discriminate against would-be policyholders.

Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs fear the emergence of a “genetic underclass” of people unable to get insurance, as companies may use genetic test results when underwriting policies.

In the House of Commons this week, LibDem MP Dr. Evan Harris said people saw the Government&#39s position as being “too close to that of the insurance companies”.

DTI minister Patricia Hewitt conceded that the Government will have to keep an eye on the industry andlegislation may be necessary.

But the ABI is taking a cautious stance, saying the mapping of the genome does not change anything. Actuaries agree, saying it is just another step in a gradual process of scientific advancement.

The Government&#39s genetics and insurance committee has yet to make a recommendation on what tests life offices should use and under what circumstances. The committee is due to report by the end of the summer.

ABI spokesman Malcolm Tarling says: “The insurance industry will not require any person applying for a policyto take a genetic test.”

Hewitt says: “There is real concern that we could end up with a genetic underclass of people who find it impossible to get insurance or employment because genetic tests predict they might develop some disease.

“We want to prevent unfair and inappropriate use of genetic information.”

GeneralCologne Re act-uary Paul Brett says: “Thisis a gradual process. There will be no big bang in gen-etic research.”

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