GeneWatch PR: GeneWatch UK Response to Insurance Industry Announcement on Genetic Tests

For immediate release - 23rd October 2001

Today’s insurance industry announcement on genetic testing and insurance was criticised as "hopelessly inadequate" by GeneWatch UK, who called for urgent legislation to prevent the creation of a "genetic underclass".

Today’s deal between the Government and the insurance industry involves a five-year freeze on the use of genetic tests by insurance companies, except for high-value policies (1). Tests for genetic susceptibility to diseases such as cancer can continue to be added to an approved list and used to determine access to high-value policies throughout the five year freeze. GeneWatch UK warned that this amounted to a step-by-step approach by the insurance industry to expanding its use of genetic tests in spite of public opposition.

"This temporary agreement is a slippery slope to creating a genetic underclass," said Dr Helen Wallace, Deputy Director of GeneWatch UK. "Without legislation, people taking tests today will not know whether they will be excluded from insurance or employment in the future. The Government has back-tracked from an important principle under pressure from insurers."

GeneWatch UK warned that the benefits of genetic health research would not be realised unless people could be confident that the results of genetic tests would not be used in future to discriminate against them. Four out of five people in Britain believe that genetic information should not be used in setting insurance premiums (2).

"Genetic tests will snowball as research continues," said Dr Wallace. "They should be used to bring health benefits, not to create a genetic underclass. People urgently need to know that legal safeguards are in place before they give genetic samples for research."

For most diseases, a genetic test can only indicate a highly uncertain susceptibility to disease, with no certainty of the illness developing.

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For Further Information please contact:

Dr Helen Wallace on 01298-871898

Notes to editors:

  1. Association of British Insurers, News Release "Government endorses 5 year moratorium on genetic testing and insurance", 23 October 2001.
  2. Human Genetics Commission (2001), Public Attitudes to Human Genetic Information, MORI report for the HGC, March 2001.

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