With genetic testing being used increasingly in health care,
there is a growing concern in regards to "genetic
discrimination". On June 9, 2015, the Government of Canada
introduced the Protection Against Genetic Discrimination
Act, a new legislation that addresses this new, but rising
issue of genetic discrimination.
Genetic testing is often used to develop the best treatment for
disease and to advise patients if they are particularly susceptible
to certain health risks, such as a genetic predisposition to
develop breast cancer or other illnesses like heart disease,
diabetes, and many other medical conditions. Patients may decide to
have preventative surgery on the basis of the results of genetic
Health care information for individuals now includes information
from any genetic testing that they have received. If employers have
access to health care information with respect to employees, there
is a concern that the genetic information could influence decisions
like promotions. For example, individuals may be less likely to be
promoted to a senior key position in the company if genetic testing
has disclosed that they are highly susceptible to heart
In addition, insurers are entitled to examine the health care
records of individuals in making decisions with respect to
insurability and insurance rates. The results of genetic testing
could cause an insurer to decline coverage, or to charge increased
With the new legislation, the Canadian Human Rights Act
is amended by adding a provision that:
If the ground of discrimination is a
predisposition to disability that is inferred from the results of
genetic testing, the discrimination shall be deemed to be on the
ground of disability.
The new legislation will also amend the federal Privacy
Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic
Documents Act to protect the privacy of individuals with
respect to the results of genetic testing. The Privacy Act
mainly applies to federal government institutions, while the
Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents
Act applies to private-sector employers that are federally
regulated. For example, banks, telecommunications, airlines and
transportation services that are interprovincial or international
are governed by federal privacy legislation.
The federal government is urging the provincial governments in
Canada to make similar amendments to their own human rights and
privacy legislation in order to prevent discrimination on the basis
of genetic information.
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