Hands Off Our Genes

Hands Off Our Genes2018-08-23T14:37:22+00:00

The legislation of Bill S-201, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act in Canada

Genetic assessments allow individuals to take a peek at what their DNA contains and to look for unique genetic markers, potential health risks, drug sensitivities, hereditary conditions, and ancestry. As more individuals gain access to these tests, Canadians have growing concerns that this advanced knowledge could be used to discriminate against them for medical, insurance, or employment purposes.

 

Bill S-201 Explained

In 2016, Bill S-201, called the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, went to the Canadian parliament for review.1 This Act would prohibit discrimination by any organization or individual based on someone’s genetic testing results. The Act also prevents an individual from being required to undergo genetic testing, and it further protects the person from being forced to disclose results in the case of undergoing testing independently. For many Canadians, especially those with genetic conditions, the issue of not being able to obtain life insurance was a major cause for concern if the Bill were to be rejected. The lack of protection from genetic discrimination had also made some Canadians hesitant to have genetic tests performed, out of fear that their results would be used against them.

 

Concerns Prompted Bill S-201

Before the introduction of Bill S-201, there were no laws in place to prevent discrimination against individuals based on tests for pre-existing genetic conditions. While the strength of the Bill was still being discussed in parliament, many Members of Parliament voiced their concerns about how Canadians were being forced to disclose their genetic medical information. Consequently, these Canadians were denied life insurance due to their genetic conditions, or were instead concealing their conditions for fear of being discriminated against. Taking these realities into account, Bill S-201 was passed by the House of Commons in early 2017, and has received Royal Assent, meaning that it will be incorporated into Canadian law.

 

Enacting Bill S-201

In 2016, Rob Oliphant, Liberal Member of Parliament for Don Valley West in Ontario, championed Bill S-201 until its eventual approval the following year. “I am indebted to the Bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator James Cowan, as well as the doctors, patient organizations, and civil society groups who have been fighting for protection against genetic discrimination for many years,” Oliphant said of the Bill. “Although the Bill must return to the Senate for a minor technical change, I hope the Governor General will give the Bill Royal Assent as soon as possible and enact the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act into law, giving Canadians long-needed protection. It has been a singular honour to represent my constituents and Canadians across the country on this important issue,” he added.

 

Outlook

With the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, Canadians will soon be fully protected from genetic inequality and will be free to take advantage of all the benefits that genetic testing offers. The Gastrointestinal Society is a marketing affiliate of genetic testing service 23andMe, which provides Canadians with personalized genome, health, and ancestral information. Genetic testing kits can help provide users with information about an array of GI-related conditions. More than 20,000 Canadians have already used 23andMe to discover more about their genetic makeup.2 When you purchase a kit by clicking through the Gastrointestinal Society’s website, $30 from every kit will go toward supporting the Society. Through the protection of Bill S-201, Canadians now have the ability to learn more about their genes and take control of this information, while at the same time feeling safe in the knowledge that their test results cannot be used against them.


First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 202 – 2017
1. Open Parliament. Bill S-201. Available at: https://openparliament.ca/bills/42-1/S-201/. Accessed on 2017-04-18.
2. Gastrointestinal Society. Are you curious about the secrets your genes might hold? Available at: http://www.badgut.org/donate/23andme/. Accessed on 2017-04-18.
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