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Moratrium on genetic testing mooted

The British Government says it is prepared to prevent the insurance industry from using genetic testing.

Sunday, April 22nd 2001, 9:23PM

The UK Government says it is prepared to introduce a moratorium on the use of genetic tests by insurance firms.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn says the government is prepared to introduce the moratorium if that is what is recommended by the Human Genetics Commission.

He made this announcement at the same time as he said that the government will introduce legislation to ban human reproductive cloning.

There are growing fears that the use of genetic testing in the underwriting process will create an uninsurable "genetic underclass".

Milburn says there are potential benefits in genetic testing programmes, such as being able to identify people who have inherited a risk of serious treatable disease.

However, he warns that screening must not be used to divide patients into a "genetic underclass" who are likely to become ill and a healthy "genetic superclass".

Milburn fears that scientific progress may be hampered if people think that tests are being used against them. Therefore he wants to reassure people about the issue of genetic testing.

The only genetic test the UK Health Department has approved as reliable is for Huntington's chorea. Others are in the pipeline for approval.

Currently many European countries and 28 US states ban the use of genetic testing in life insurance.

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