WASHINGTON (February 13, 2007)– Cardinal Justin Rigali called on Congress to correct an "unfortunate and apparently unintentional loophole" in the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (H.R. 493). The legislation is designed to prevent employers and health insurance companies from discriminating against individuals and their families based on the results of genetic tests.
In a letter to the House Education and Labor Committee, which is expected to mark up the legislation this week, the Cardinal explained that the bill as introduced seems not to address discrimination against families based on the preimplantation or prenatal genetic testing of their child, or genetic testing performed on an adoptive child before an adoption is completed. This is because the bill forbids discrimination against an individual based on genetic information regarding the individual or a "family member" of the individual; and in four key places, the bill defines "family member" to include "a child who is born to or placed for adoption with the individual."
As a result, an insurance company may misuse knowledge of a child's genetic defect to raise a woman's premiums, cancel her insurance, or even pressure her to have an abortion or cancel adoption plans for a child with special needs, because the company does not wish to cover the additional needs of a child who will develop an illness or disability.
"The explosion of knowledge regarding genetics in recent years is itself a positive development in our understanding of God's creation, and could bring enormous benefits to humanity," Cardinal Rigali wrote. "At the same time, this knowledge carries with it great power that is subject to abuse. Human beings and entire families could be stigmatized and discriminated against based on the intimate details of their own genetic makeup," the Cardinal continued. "The most fundamental and destructive form of such discrimination would be to use such information to seek to prevent a family from accepting a child with special needs into their lives. I urge you to amend H.R. 493 to make it clear that such invidious discrimination will not be permitted."
Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, is Chairman, Committee for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
NOTE: The full text of Cardinal Rigali's letter is available on the Web at http://www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/GINAletter.pdf.