Insurers agree to shelve plans for genetic tests

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Insurance companies have struck a deal with the Government over the use of genetic tests for insurance policies, in the hope of avoiding a ban on the practice.

Insurance companies have struck a deal with the Government over the use of genetic tests for insurance policies, in the hope of avoiding a ban on the practice.

A five-year freeze on the use of such tests, designed to calm fears of the creation of a "genetic underclass", will be announced by ministers today.

The moratorium will prevent insurance companies from asking people whether they have had a test for inherited conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or breast cancer, and whether the result was positive or negative. An exception will be permitted for tests for Huntingdon's disease.

Insurance companies have been in talks for months with ministers to try to head off a ban, which has been recommended by the parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committee. "This is a deal for five years and will allow people to have a debate about the ethical issues involved," a Whitehall source said.

Today's announcement of the five-year freeze is timed to deflect criticism in a parliamentary debate on Thursday.

There is no law preventing insurance companies from asking people if they have had tests for genetic conditions.

The Government's Human Genetics Commission, which polices use of the tests, has long called for a moratorium on using genetic tests for policies worth less than £500,000. But it has maintained that insurance companies ought to be able to ask people if they have had a genetic test for Huntingdon's disease, after research showed that it was valid and reliable.

Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, who chairs the commission, has expressed severe misgivings on self-regulation by insurance companies.

Her concerns have been echoed by the Alzheimer's Society, which has said that "insurers cannot be relied upon to set and police their own rules on genetic testing".

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