LONDON  The U.K. government declared last week that genetic tests will have to be validated before their results can be taken into account by the insurance industry. The validation procedure, which is expected to be in place early next year, will assess whether there is scientific and actuarial evidence that the result of a given genetic test provides a sound and accurate basis on which insurance companies can make decisions about people¿s insurability. If the new evaluation system finds that no clear link exists, test results will not be approved for use by insurers.

The government will not legislate to enforce the validation procedure, but will work instead with the insurance industry to develop a voluntary system.

The government said this means that people who have taken a genetic test can be confident that they will get fair treatment from insurers. The ruling was made in response to a report from its advisory body, the Human Genetics Advisory Commission (HGAC), called ¿The Implications of Genetic Testing for Insurance,¿ published in December 1997.

Government officials, the insurance industry and HGAC are to work in partnership to set up the independent evaluation system as part of the existing Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing.

Science Minister Lord Sainsbury said, ¿Genetic testing provides important medical benefits both for the individual and for society as a whole. However, the implications of developments in this area have caused some public concern, particularly in relation to the use of genetic test results by the insurance industry.

¿We recognize the significant work that the Association of British Insurers has undertaken to put in place safeguards on the use of genetic tests, but believe that a further step would be appropriate,¿ he added.

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¿We propose a new framework for controlling the use of genetic tests for insurance purposes. Our objective is to put in place a robust system that will meet both the needs of consumers and the insurance industry, and which will also be responsive to developments in genetic science in the future,¿ Sainsbury said. ¿The aim will be to promote public confidence in genetic testing so that its full public health benefits are realized, and at the same time to give consumers confidence that they will be treated fairly by the insurance industry, whatever their genetic status.¿

The advisory panel will also have a duty to monitor for any evidence that insurance considerations are deterring people from taking a genetic test. In addition, the government is considering how to strengthen the appeals procedure for people who believe their genetic information has been used inappropriately or misinterpreted by the insurance industry.

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