BETHESDA, MD - The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) has named the Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness (CCGF); and Senator James Cowan, LLM, QC, of the Parliament of Canada; as the 2016 recipients of its annual Advocacy Award.
This award honors individuals or groups who have exhibited excellence and achievement in applications of human genetics for the common good, in areas such as facilitating public awareness of genetics issues, promoting funding for biomedical research, and integrating genetics into health systems. ASHG will present the award, which will include a cash prize to CCGF and a plaque, on Friday, October 21, during the organization's 66th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.
For several years, Senator Cowan and CCGF have led efforts to pass a law preventing genetic discrimination in Canada. This year, Senator Cowan's bill was passed unanimously by the Senate of Canada. It is now before the House of Commons. First introduced in April 2013, Bill S-201 would enact a new Canadian Genetic Non-Discrimination Act that would protect individuals from being required to undergo a genetic test, or disclose the results of a test, as a condition of acquiring a good or service or entering into a contractual agreement. It would also prohibit employers from requiring employees to undergo genetic testing or disclose testing results, or taking discriminatory action against employees who refuse to undergo genetic testing or reveal testing results. Finally, it would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of genetic characteristics.
The CCGF is a coalition of genetic disease-focused organizations that aim to prevent genetic discrimination in Canada, particularly as it relates to employment and insurance. They do so by advocating for nondiscrimination policy at the federal and provincial levels as well as by relevant organizations, and are the leading voice advocating for S-201's passage.
Senator Cowan of Nova Scotia, who served as Senate Liberal Leader, has a history of advocating for public health policy. Prior to his time in Parliament, he was Vice Chair of the Metropolitan Mental Health Planning Board and Director of the Nova Scotia Division of the Canadian Cancer Society. In addition to Bill S-201, he has introduced legislation to address the criminal justice system's approach to people with mental illness.
ASHG has long supported the establishment of strong protections against genetic discrimination, including advocating for the passage of the U.S. Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act in 2008, and recognizes a need for similar policies worldwide. Earlier this year, ASHG issued a statement of support for S-201.
"Such protections are necessary to reassure members of the public that they can participate in genetic research or undergo a genetic test without fear that the results will be used to discriminate against them," said Derek Scholes, PhD, ASHG Director of Science Policy.