Genetic Testing of Humans

Keywords: DNA | Medicine

The Swiss Federal Law on the Genetic Testing of Humans comprehensively regulates the preconditions for tests conducted on human genetic material. The new law is designed to protect human dignity, prevent abuses and ensure a high standard of testing.

Human genetic tests are helpful in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of disease. However, since they can also be used to detect a predisposition to an illness before the onset of any clinical signs and symptoms (presymptomatic tests), they raise a number of awkward ethical, psychological and social questions. The law establishes general principles for genetic tests, stating in particular that no-one may suffer discrimination on the basis of genetic information, and regulates their use in various areas.

Since genetic tests are complex and their results difficult to interpret, the law attaches considerable importance to the aspect of quality assurance. Gene tests may not be freely marketed to the public. Laboratories that perform genetic tests must be approved by a government agency. An expert commission for genetic testing is also to be set up.

Genetic testing in the medical field (including prenatal tests and screening tests) must have a medical purpose, may only be ordered by a doctor and must be accompanied by comprehensive counselling. Prenatal tests may not be conducted to determine traits of the unborn child that are not directly harmful. Tests to establish the sex of the child are permitted only if they are intended to diagnose an illness.

In the context of the employment relationship the employer shall not be allowed either to request presymptomatic genetic tests or to make use the results of previous tests. Exceptions to this rule may apply if the job is associated with the risk of an occupational illness, significant environmental harm or serious accident- or health-related risks for third parties. No exceptions apply to presymptomatic genetic tests or the use of previous test results in the context of liability insurance.

Insurers shall not be allowed to ask an applicant to undergo either presymptomatic or prenatal genetic tests. In certain areas of insurance (namely social insurance and occupational pension plans), the requesting and use of previous test results is also banned. In the context of private insurance, the results of previous tests may be requested if these have produced reliable and meaningful results that are relevant to the calculation of premiums. One ruling intended to benefit poor-risk policyholders imposes a ban on retrospective investigation in respect of life insurance policies with payouts of up to 400,000 Swiss francs and voluntary disability insurance policies with a maximum annual pension of 40,000 Swiss francs.

The law also regulates the preparation of DNA profiles used for investigating parentage and for identification purposes in civil and administrative proceedings. Parentage can also be investigated outside an official procedure and without an order from an authority. Prenatal paternity tests may only be implemented following a thorough counselling interview with the pregnant woman.

Further information

Note

For the complete documentation see the pages in German, French or Italian.

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to the top Last modification 14.02.2007

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Federal Office of Justice
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Thomas Binz Federal Office of Public Health
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