Bill S-201, or the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act is one step away to being a law in Canada.
On Wednesday, Canadian Parliament passed a long debated bill that would prohibit anyone to undergo a genetic test or disclose the results of one in order to receive medical services. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alongside Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould urged MP’s to strip down the Bill S-201, due to their claim that it meddles with the balance between federal and provincial jurisdictions.
In a press conference before the deciding vote of 222 in favour and 60 against it, Trudeau said “The government has taken a position that one of the elements in the proposed bill is unconstitutional.”
In an opinion piece, Lorne Marin, member of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ Task Force argued the need to end genetic discrimination for Canadians.
“Even today, genetic screening enables countless patients to identify gene markers associated with serious illnesses and take effective steps to preserve their health… And yet, just as doctors advise patients of the benefits of genetic screening, they often add a warning of the potential impact test results can have on one’s career or insurance prospects.”
According to the bill, it will become illegal to require someone to undergo or disclose the results of genetic testing as a condition in an insurance policy or any other good, service, contract or agreement.
Global News reported a breach of the bill could mean a fine of up to $1 million, or five years in prison.
The insurance industry opposes the bill, citing that it will drive the cost of insurance premiums higher.
In an emailed statement to INN, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA), which had sided with Trudeau in opposing the bill as proposed, said it was extremely disappointed with the decision. CLHIA believes the bill would cause unintended problems with the affordability of insurance.
CLHIA said, “The industry is reviewing the impact the passage of this Bill will have on consumers and is considering its options in light of Parliament’s decision.”
However, Jennifer O’Connell, Liberal MP for Pickering—Uxbridge, in her speech in Parliament on March 7, 2017, argued that, “Although it is true that previous versions of the bill did contain insurance-specific provisions, they have been removed to address concerns about adverse selection and the constitutional issues that would arise because of it.”
What is Bill S-201?
This Bill was first introduced in 2013 by Nova Scotia Senator James Cowan, while in the House of Commons Liberal MP Rob Oliphant has led the pack of its support. It’s unusual for something that started as a private member’s bill to have gained enough support to become a full-fledged bill that has now been passed.
Bill S-201 also adjusts both the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act to include the prevention of discrimination on the “ground of genetic characteristics.”
Canada is the only G7 country without protections to prevent genetic discrimination, but that can quickly change as Bill S-201 awaits its final step–royal assent. When this happens, the new legislation will potentially impact the life science sector in Canada, especially those involved in genetic testing and its related fields like personalized medicine.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Bryan Mc Govern, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.