Risky Business: Genetic Discrimination & Insurance

Françoise Baylis discusses the response of the Canadian insurance industry to Bill S-201, An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination.


Bill S-201, An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination, has received the unanimous support of the Canadian Senate. It is now before the House of Commons where it has received all-party support and passed second reading. It has been referred to Committee for review and improvements before the third and final reading.

In brief, there are three parts to the Act. First, there is a prohibition on “requiring an individual to undergo a genetic test or disclose the results of a genetic test as a condition of providing goods and services.” This would stop companies that sell life, critical illness and disability insurance from asking clients to take a genetic test or to share information about genetic tests they may have taken.

Second, there is a proposed change to the Canada Labour Code, namely, “to protect employees from being required to undergo or to disclose the results of a genetic test.” This would stop federally related industries from asking employees to take a genetic test or to share information about a genetic test they may have taken.

Third, there is a proposed amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act. This Act prohibits discrimination on a number of grounds including race, ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, and disability. The plan is to add “genetic characteristics” to this list.

Some people criticize Bill S-201 – most notably insurers. They worry about clients taking a genetic test, getting results that suggest an increased risk of developing a specific “genetic illness” and “bulking up” on insurance.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.