Insurers act to control use of genetic tests

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British insurance companies appointed an independent adviser on genetics testing yesterday, potentially opening up an era when your DNA could determine the level of your life- and health-insurance premiums.

Sandy Raeburn, a professor of clinical genetics at Nottingham University, said that he would be working with the Association of British Insurers to draw up the basis of a code of practice on the use of genetic information by the end of the year.

But Standard Life was quick to say yesterday that it did not think it was appropriate to ask for the results of genetic tests when issuing life policies worth less than pounds 100,000 linked to a mortgage. Peter Robertson, assistant general manager, said: "For the moment our stance is clear. We do not want to know about genetic tests."

But Mr Robertson said he could not guarantee the company would ignore such information in the future. "Having talked to a number of geneticists, they say we would be foolish to ignore genetic tests forever, because they may prove to be exceptionally useful."

Professor Raeburn said that he would seek more information about the industry's application of genetic testing. "We don't know how many people might have been unable to take insurance unjustifiably. Nor do we know what problems insurance companies might have had if somebody knew they had a genetic condition which was important and didn't mention it."

Present testing can show if someone has genes which indicate a predisposition to diseases such as bowel and breast cancer. But this does not mean they will develop those diseases, because there could be other, as yet unidentified, genes which mitigate the disease genes' effects.

The ABI said its members had a right to be informed about the results of any genetic tests undertaken by potential policyholders.

MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee last year accused insurers of complacency over issues such as the possibility of charging people with defective genes prohibitively high premiums and called for a code of practice. The Government rejected this, saying simply that the industry should make further progress.