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Trying to get into your genes


Here's one of those news stories that sound good -- until you think about it. President Clinton has proposed legislation to keep employers, insurance companies and HMOs from discriminating against us employees and consumers on the basis of genetic make-up. That's good to know, isn't it? But wait -- what's bad to know is that this is going on! Sure enough, thanks to modern, high-tech medical advances, a simple blood test can reveal not only if you have a disease, but whether you are genetically predisposed to get other diseases later in life.;;So you apply for a job, an insurance policy or for entry into an HMO and they say, "Let's just run a quick blood test on you." No problem, you think -- they just want to know my blood type in case of an accident. These are nice folks. No, no Sunshine, these are the corporate gene police screening to see if you have genes that might increase your risk of getting breast cancer, Alzheimer's or other diseases. "Predictive genetic tests," these are called, though you're not even told you're being tested. If you've got a couple of mutant genes -- and most of us do -- they can then deny you the job, the policy or the HMO membership on the basis that you might get sick and they'd have to pay out on your health care.;;How accurate are these predictive tests? Slightly less so than astrology. The head of a federal task force studying the tests says they are performed in inadequately regulated labs and interpreted by people who often are not competent to read them. And even the good tests don't really predict what's going to happen to you -- just that you fit a genetic profile of people who might someday get such-and-such disease. Bill Clinton wants to regulate genetic testing by companies. I say leave our genes alone: This testing shouldn't be regulated, it should be outlawed.