Boulder Pondering Genetic Discrimination Law

December 20, 2002 ( - In what is being described as the first of its kind in the country, a Boulder, Colorado initiative would ban discrimination on the basic of genetics as part of a comprehensive municipal proposal.

According to an Associated Press news report, the proposed genetics discrimination law would help shield residents from problems due to information that can be gleaned from their genetic makeup. The city of Boulder proposed ordinance would include housing, public accommodations, and employment, the AP said.

“This is an area where the technological capabilities have grown rapidly and it is important that the social institutions respond and take responsibility,” Mayor Will Toor said, according to the AP.

Officials say the problem is that new research may make it possible to identify an individual’s lifetime risk for cancer, heart attack and other diseases. City leaders say such research raises ethical and legal questions, according to the AP.

For example, employers and other companies could use the information to screen out candidates. Or, a pre-employment physical, from DNA testing to family medical histories, could be required and used by companies, the AP reported.

Boulder officials believe the proposed measure could help down the road as genetic science advances and testing becomes cheaper.

“We’d like to be passing ordinances before we have a terrible problem and no solution,” City Attorney Joe de Raismes said, according to the AP.

Some states have added the use of genetic information to discrimination statutes while others protect the information under privacy laws.

Colorado state law says that genetic information is a property right that it is owned by the individual and should be governed by privacy statutes. Twenty-seven other states take a similar approach, protecting genetic information under privacy laws.

The League of Cities said 47 states and one county already have genetic discrimination laws, but that the Boulder proposal is more sweeping in scope than most.