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Office Of The Vice President

For Immediate Release January 20, 1998
                       ON GENETIC DISCRIMINATION
            Says Employees Should Not Be Discriminated Against 
                    On Basis of Genetic Information

WASHINGTON -- In an effort to ensure that genetic progress does not become a new excuse for discrimination, Vice President Al Gore today (1/20) called for legislation that will bar employers from discriminating against their employees on the basis of genetic information.

"The fear of genetic discrimination is prompting Americans to avoid genetic tests that could literally save their lives," the Vice President said during an address to the Genome Action Coalition's Third Annual James Watson Lecture at the National Academy of Sciences. "But genetic progress should not become a new excuse for discrimination. Genetic discrimination is wrong -- and it's time that we end it."

The Vice President released an Administration report, Genetic Information and the Workplace, which documents the current and future problems of genetic discrimination in the workplace and outlines principles for federal legislation to guard against these abuses. He was joined at today's event by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala; Department of Labor Deputy Secretary Kitty Higgins; Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner Paul Miller; Dr. Harold Varmus, Director of National Institutes of Health; Dr. James Watson, Nobel Laureate, Author of "The Double Helix," and President of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; and Dr. Kay Jamison, Chair of the Steering Committee of the Genome Action Coalition.

Specifically, the legislation that the Vice President called for today will prohibit employers from requesting or requiring genetic information for hiring; prevent on-the-job discrimination; and ensure that genetic information is not disclosed without the explicit permission of the individual.

"Miraculous scientific achievements can help build an America that is healthier in body and in spirit. That's no small feat. But science and society must always advance together, for neither can every truly advance alone," the Vice President said.

Six months ago, the President announced that the Administration is supporting legislation that will guarantee that Americans who are self-employed or otherwise buy health insurance themselves will not lose or be denied that health insurance because of genetic information. He also said he wants legislation that mandates that no insurer base their premiums on such genetic information.

The Vice President has been working to promote genetic research and protect Americans against genetic discrimination since he served as a U.S. Representative in Congress. As early as 1982, he held hearings in Congress on genetic discrimination in the workplace. In addition, the Vice President in August unveiled the Cancer Genome Anatomy Project, the comprehensive clearinghouse of information about tens of thousands of cancer genes, which will enable scientists and researchers around the world to work together through a website available on the Internet and bring us closer to a cure.

The James Watson Lecture is held each year by the Genome Action Coalition, a voluntary association of 125 patient advocacy and professional groups and bio-pharmaceutical companies, which seeks to engender support for genome research among policy makers and the public. This group focuses primarily on the Human Genome Project, the international research initiative to decipher the instructions encoded in human DNA, the hereditary material.