Canada’s House of Commons has passed a controversial new law that prevents corporations from demanding genetic information from potential employees or customers.
The law, known as ‘Bill S-201’, makes it illegal for companies to deny someone a job if they refuse a genetic test, and also prevents insurance companies from making new customer policies conditional on the supply of genetic information. Insurance companies will no longer be able to solicit genetic tests so as to determine customer premiums.
Critics of the bill said that insurance premiums would skyrocket, in some cases up to 30 or 50 per cent, if companies are prevented from obtaining genetic data. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau labelled the proposed legislation “unconstitutional” as it impinges on what he believes should be a matter for individual provinces to regulate.
Yet the bill’s supporters have described current mandatory genetic testing practices as a form of discrimination and a threat to privacy.
Following the parliamentary vote, which was 222-60 in favour, Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, the sponsor of the bill, described the result as a ‘victory for human rights’:
“This was a great day for Parliament, a great day for human rights and a greater day for people who are worried about getting the genetic test that could save their life but are afraid of facing discrimination”.Some doctors say that the new protections will give patients the confidence to have genetic tests in hospitals, as this data can no longer be used against them by corporations.
A State Senator in Hawaii, Breene Harimoto gave an emotional address this week to persuade his colleagues to vote against a bill for legalising physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. He said that in 2015 he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which has a low survival rate and can be quite painful. But he was cured. “It is a miracle that I am still alive,” he said.
His point was that “terminal illness” is almost meaningless. Margaret Dore, a Seattle lawyer who lobbied against the bill, recalls an even more dramatic incident. “A few years ago, I was met at the airport by a man who at age 18 or 19 had been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and given 3 to 5 years to live, at which time he would die by paralysis. His diagnosis had been confirmed by the Mayo Clinic. When he met me at the airport, he was 74 years old. The disease progression had stopped on its own."
If Senator Harimoto or Ms Dore’s friend had the option of assisted suicide, they might stopped fighting their disease and chosen a quick death. They would have chopped decades off their lives. “Terminal illness” is a pillar of assisted suicide legislation – and it just doesn’t make sense.
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