January 31, 2007 10:46 AM PST

IBM supports genetic antidiscrimination bill

IBM, one of the world's largest employers, on Tuesday endorsed federal legislation that would make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of a person's genetic code.

Emerging breakthroughs in gene testing will enable doctors to tailor prescription medication to the individual and treat patients proactively against a predisposition to things like diabetes, breast cancer or heart disease.

A fear of discrimination, however, could prevent people from taking advantage of the gene testing technology. Some say that insurance companies might try to deny coverage to those with a predisposition to a costly illness, or employers could decide against hiring or promoting someone on the basis of his known genetic limitations.

The issue was discussed at a hearing on Tuesday held by the Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor on "Protecting Workers from Genetic Discrimination."

IBM, whose chief privacy officer spoke in favor of the bill at the hearing, wrote protection against genetic discrimination into its company policy in October 2005. Harriet Pearson, chief privacy officer, said that her company, which employs more than 330,000 people worldwide, has been the first to do this.

In an interview, Pearson said: "Overall, we understand the emergence and adoption of all this technology. Web 2.0, social networking, advanced solutions that allow the health care industry to share across the ecosystem. All of those advances raise questions of privacy."

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2007 would prohibit employers or insurance companies from making economic or coverage decisions based on genetic information. It would also give genetic information the same confidentiality protection as a medical record.

"What really caused consideration of this issue was triggered by the Human Genome Project," Pearson said. "We are always looking as to how we adjust our policy...Our policy prohibits discrimination based on race, gender. And sexual orientation wasn't always in there; we added that. And now we added genetics to that policy. It's a current issue on the radar screen. And one of the things I like about our company--I love--is that we do look around and take a position that we think makes sense," said Pearson.

The bill, which has been passed twice unanimously in the Senate, was reintroduced in the House on January 16 by Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.). It has wide bipartisan support with 181 legislators signing on as co-sponsors. But variations of the bill have been brought up in the House before and have had one strong lobby group against it.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has consistently opposed and testified against past genetic antidiscrimination bills, contending that the Americans with Disabilities Act already offers enough protection. The group's position is that new legislation could lead to frivolous lawsuits, according to past testimony and statements on its Web site.

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10 comments

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Come on
We can't discriminate against other races, religions, sexes, sexual orientation, skin color, age, and a slew of other things...what can we use to discriminate against other people? When will it end? How does this help us make fun of them?

On a serious note though, can't they come up with a blanket law stating that you can't discriminate against people, do we have to list all the things people can't discriminate against? It opens the door for things that people can discriminate against and there shouldn't be ANYTHING that people can.
Posted by mb_96_net (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There's always some way to discriminate
you just got to look hard enough.

Smoking, being sick a lot, bad credit, all kinds of things that aren't illegal, but are easy to use against someone.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Link Flag
Come on
We can't discriminate against other races, religions, sexes, sexual orientation, skin color, age, and a slew of other things...what can we use to discriminate against other people? When will it end? How does this help us make fun of them?

On a serious note though, can't they come up with a blanket law stating that you can't discriminate against people, do we have to list all the things people can't discriminate against? It opens the door for things that people can discriminate against and there shouldn't be ANYTHING that people can.
Posted by mb_96_net (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There's always some way to discriminate
you just got to look hard enough.

Smoking, being sick a lot, bad credit, all kinds of things that aren't illegal, but are easy to use against someone.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Link Flag
Ridiculous
I think that's totally insane. If one could check someone's credit history or have them go through a drug test what's wrong with genetic testing? The only problem is discriminating based on a trait that is statistically not relevant for the job at hand (like being good at math based on eye color). As long as the trait that is considered relevant indeed has statistical significance, it's totally acceptable. Face it... life is discrimination. Each of us had to beat many others even to get conceived.

Moreover this could have many positive consequences as people will probably direct themselves towards those areas which they have a better shot at being competitive. It's precisely like globalisation vs. local producers discussion. If local producers can't compete, why don't they find something else to do? I am sure everyone can.
Posted by atici (63 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ridiculous
I think that's totally insane. If one could check someone's credit history or have them go through a drug test what's wrong with genetic testing? The only problem is discriminating based on a trait that is statistically not relevant for the job at hand (like being good at math based on eye color). As long as the trait that is considered relevant indeed has statistical significance, it's totally acceptable. Face it... life is discrimination. Each of us had to beat many others even to get conceived.

Moreover this could have many positive consequences as people will probably direct themselves towards those areas which they have a better shot at being competitive. It's precisely like globalisation vs. local producers discussion. If local producers can't compete, why don't they find something else to do? I am sure everyone can.
Posted by atici (63 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So what
you can fire or refuse to hire people for smoking, even if they do so off company property or in their own time.. you can fire or refuse to hire people for having bad credit..

Who cares if you can refuse to hire or fire people for being genetically disposed to cancer or heart disease.

Obviously smokers can quit - but personally I find this particular discrimination annoying. We banned commercials on TV and during kids programming, we stopped Hollywood and sporting celebrities from smoking, and we did this because of the effect they had on enticing young people into a very bad decision. Yet we are willing to discriminate against those very people because they are now grown up, and were tricked into becoming addicted to a hideous product.

Then we have insurance companies raising people's rates because they have bad credit - and there's no way to fight it because they ALL do it.

We have businesses refusing to hire people because they have bad credit - despite the fact it was probably getting laid off from some j$rk tech company, replaced by cheap overseas labour, that got these people into their predicament in the first place.

So I ask what does it matter if there is one more form of legal discrimination.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So what
you can fire or refuse to hire people for smoking, even if they do so off company property or in their own time.. you can fire or refuse to hire people for having bad credit..

Who cares if you can refuse to hire or fire people for being genetically disposed to cancer or heart disease.

Obviously smokers can quit - but personally I find this particular discrimination annoying. We banned commercials on TV and during kids programming, we stopped Hollywood and sporting celebrities from smoking, and we did this because of the effect they had on enticing young people into a very bad decision. Yet we are willing to discriminate against those very people because they are now grown up, and were tricked into becoming addicted to a hideous product.

Then we have insurance companies raising people's rates because they have bad credit - and there's no way to fight it because they ALL do it.

We have businesses refusing to hire people because they have bad credit - despite the fact it was probably getting laid off from some j$rk tech company, replaced by cheap overseas labour, that got these people into their predicament in the first place.

So I ask what does it matter if there is one more form of legal discrimination.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Reply Link Flag
GENETIC DISCRIMINATION - IBM RIGHT
IBM is right to support legislation banning discrimination based upon genetic testing. They probably have enough knowledge of how this works to understand the dangers it presents.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce's quoted argument against this bill, that it is already covered by the ADA, is a lie, and their members' lawyers who deal with ADA cases know it. Although the text of the ADA prohibits discrimination against those who are "disabled" or "perceived as disabled," under the case law you have to be about half dead to qualify as "disabled" rather than "impaired," a distinction without a difference, and you have to be already rather than potentially disabled. Also, governmental employers, licensing agencies, etc. including the State Bar of Texas and Texas' Attorney General, have convinced a federal court that soverign immunity renders the ADA unconstitutional and void, overlooking the fact that a specific amendment to the Texas State Bar Act itself makes that question irrelevant by barring such discrimination as a matter of state law. The argument biols down to Congress having stuck some findings in the wrong place.

Banning genetic discrimination should probably go along with an ADA Original Intent Restoration Bill to correct holdings in Supreme Court cases where lead sponsor Sen. Bob Dole had pointedly sat with the plaintiffs during oral arguments, the sovereign immunity issue, etc., and an update to HIPAA.

Prior commentator here noted discrimination by employers based upon credit scores. When the Fair Credit Reporting Act was originally passed, permitting "investigative" credit reports etc. only for jobs over $25,000.00, that was a bank president's salary, you could buy a nice house in an upscale neighborhood like Dallas suborb University Park, or a dozen new cars, for that, etc.; now it catches secretaries and beginning school teachers. Leading computer industry lawyer Sonsini, now of HP spying notoriety, reportedly paid $168,000.00 in a search for a secretary and the one he hired proceeded to rip him off big time, according to reliable news sources, so I didn't feel so bad about having made a similar mistake on a much smaller budget; an astronaut, supposedly screened for mental stability and everything else far beyond your avearage employee, just proved that doesn't work well either. In the current economic environment and job market, the use of credit scoring for jobs and insurance, etc., yields grossly unfair, and often discriminatory, results much of the time.

It was on this site that I first read of the argument that HIPAA may not protect the privacy of computeriaed third-party medical records databases, a position I hope the courts will reject but a real concern.
Posted by Transaction7 (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
GENETIC DISCRIMINATION - IBM RIGHT
IBM is right to support legislation banning discrimination based upon genetic testing. They probably have enough knowledge of how this works to understand the dangers it presents.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce's quoted argument against this bill, that it is already covered by the ADA, is a lie, and their members' lawyers who deal with ADA cases know it. Although the text of the ADA prohibits discrimination against those who are "disabled" or "perceived as disabled," under the case law you have to be about half dead to qualify as "disabled" rather than "impaired," a distinction without a difference, and you have to be already rather than potentially disabled. Also, governmental employers, licensing agencies, etc. including the State Bar of Texas and Texas' Attorney General, have convinced a federal court that soverign immunity renders the ADA unconstitutional and void, overlooking the fact that a specific amendment to the Texas State Bar Act itself makes that question irrelevant by barring such discrimination as a matter of state law. The argument biols down to Congress having stuck some findings in the wrong place.

Banning genetic discrimination should probably go along with an ADA Original Intent Restoration Bill to correct holdings in Supreme Court cases where lead sponsor Sen. Bob Dole had pointedly sat with the plaintiffs during oral arguments, the sovereign immunity issue, etc., and an update to HIPAA.

Prior commentator here noted discrimination by employers based upon credit scores. When the Fair Credit Reporting Act was originally passed, permitting "investigative" credit reports etc. only for jobs over $25,000.00, that was a bank president's salary, you could buy a nice house in an upscale neighborhood like Dallas suborb University Park, or a dozen new cars, for that, etc.; now it catches secretaries and beginning school teachers. Leading computer industry lawyer Sonsini, now of HP spying notoriety, reportedly paid $168,000.00 in a search for a secretary and the one he hired proceeded to rip him off big time, according to reliable news sources, so I didn't feel so bad about having made a similar mistake on a much smaller budget; an astronaut, supposedly screened for mental stability and everything else far beyond your avearage employee, just proved that doesn't work well either. In the current economic environment and job market, the use of credit scoring for jobs and insurance, etc., yields grossly unfair, and often discriminatory, results much of the time.

It was on this site that I first read of the argument that HIPAA may not protect the privacy of computeriaed third-party medical records databases, a position I hope the courts will reject but a real concern.
Posted by Transaction7 (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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