The Australian joint inquiry into the protection of human genetic information

David Weisbrot

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) and the Australian Health Ethics Committee are currently engaged in an inquiry into the Protection of Human Genetic Information. In particular, the Attorney-General and the Minister for Health and Ageing have asked us to focus, in relation to human genetic information and tissue samples, on how best to ensure world's best practice in relation to: privacy protection; protection against unlawful discrimination; and the maintenance of high ethical standards in medical research and clinical practice. While initial concerns and controversies have related mainly to aspects of medical research (e.g. consent; re-use of samples) and access to private insurance coverage, relevant issues arise in a wide variety of contexts, including: employment; medical practice; tissue banks and genetic databases; health administration; superannuation; access to government services (e.g. schools, nursing homes); law enforcement; and use by government authorities (e.g. for immigration purposes) or other bodies (e.g. by sports associations). Under the Australian federal system, it is also the case that laws and practices may vary across states and territories. For example, neonatal genetic testing is standard, but storage and retention policies for the resulting 'Guthrie cards' differ markedly. Similarly, some states have developed highly linked health information systems (e.g. incorporating hospitals, doctors' offices and public records), while others discourage such linkages owing to concerns about privacy. The challenge for Australia is to develop policies, standards and practices that promote the intelligent use of genetic information, while providing a level of security with which the community feels comfortable. The inquiry is presently reviewing the adequacy of existing laws and regulatory mechanisms, but recognizes that it will be even more important to develop a broad mix of strategies, such as community and professional education, and the development of official standards and industry codes that reflect emerging international best practice in this area.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-113
Number of pages25
JournalNew Genetics and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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