A Nobel Prize winning scientist has called on the British government to introduce legislation to prevent discrimination on the basis of people’s genetic make-up, the Guardian newspaper reported on Saturday.
“The main worry with genetic tests is abuse of the information,” Sir John Sulston, who is a member of the government’s genetics advisory panel the Human Genetics Commission, told the Guardian in an interview.
“So are we going to use them and lose the medical benefits, or are we going to alter society by drafting good laws so people are protected?” said Sulston.
Medical advances and the sequencing of the human genome have led to concerns that genetic testing could be used by insurance companies and employers to discriminate against people with an increased risk of developing certain diseases.
“People are quite right to be leery about having genetic tests until we have solid laws in place to protect their rights,” Sulston told the Guardian.
“What we have to establish, right across the board, is the right for people to be treated equally, regardless of their genetic make-up.
“We can’t just keep fudging the issue. Like laws on sexual and race equality, this could be very hard to police and enforce, but it is nevertheless worth pushing for.
Sulston shared the 2002 Noble medicine prize with fellow Briton Sydney Brenner and Robert Horwitz of the United States for their work on how cells divide and die and how genes regulate. This shed light on diseases from AIDS to cancer.
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD