Genetic testing for Huntingdon's disease by insurance companies is to be sanctioned by UK ministers this week. Opposition to this decision by members of parliament and consumer groups raised concerns that DNA testing for insurance purposes would create a 'genetic underclass' of people unable to gain cover, or having to pay higher premiums. People would be forced to disclose the results of a DNA test or risk rendering their cover null or void.
A spokeswoman for the National Consumer Council warned: "This could discourage people from taking a test, which may be in their interest. It may stop them from gaining early diagnosis for treatable illnesses." The insurance industry will be instructed that it can only use genetic tests for Huntingdon's to assess life insurance cover, but not mortgage protection or other insurance.
To evaluate genetic testing, the Department of Health has set up a Genetics and Insurance Committee: an independent body made up of geneticists, actuaries and health experts. The Association of British Insurers is now planning to apply for permission to carry out genetic tests for nine other diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, hereditary breast cancer and myotonic dystrophy.