Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Standard Life Assurance Company

  Standard Life is the largest mutual insurance company in Europe and is a leading provider of life insurance products in the United Kingdom.


  1.1  The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has adopted a Code of Practice on genetic testing which is followed by all its members.

  Two principal elements of the ABI Code of Practice are:

    —  insurance companies will not ask applicants to undergo a genetic test result in order to obtain insurance;

    —  where an applicant for insurance has previously had a genetic test, insurers may only take the result into account if it is a test that the ABI's Genetic Adviser has decided is relevant, reliable and valid and that has been approved by GAIC.

  1.2  We support the principles of the ABI Code of Practice but we have decided that for the foreseeable future we will follow a policy that goes beyond the requirements of the Code.

  1.3  We do not require applicants to disclose the results of any genetic tests they may have taken. If an applicant does disclose the result of a genetic test we do not take it into account in our assessment of the insurance risk, unless the result is negative.

  1.4  The genetic tests that are likely to be most relevant for life insurance are those for Huntingdon's Disease and Hereditary Breast Cancer (BRCA 1 and 2).

  1.5  Within the context of our overall business the number of applications with a known family history of Huntingdon's Disease are very few. Our approach to the assessment of risk for such applications takes account of the family history, with allowance for the probability that the applicant will be affected. We believe that this gives a reliable assessment of overall risk. Taking account of negative tests results does unbalance the overall risk assessment against the insurer but in view of the numbers involved we believe the effect to be insignificant. We monitor applications received to ensure this continues to be the case.

  1.6  The occurrence of a family history of breast cancer at an early age is seen more frequently in an insurance context than is a family history of Huntingdon's Disease. However, only a small proportion of applicants with such a family history will have either of the genes identified by the ABI's Genetic Adviser as relevant.

  1.7  We have therefore concluded that our traditional approach of taking account of the family history and generally ignoring genetic test results is sufficient. This allows the cost of such risks to be spread as widely as possible. The policy does rely on the presumption that we will not have significant increases in the numbers of applicants with abnormal genetic tests.


  2.1  The approach of the ABI to the use of genetic test results in insurance follows the guidance given by its Genetic Adviser. The advice is based on reviewed medical research and tests approved for use in clinical practice.

  2.2  In addition, there has been research published on the impact of genetic disease, particularly for Huntingdon's Disease, BRCA 1 and 2 and Alzheimer's Disease.

  2.3  We believe the advice given by the ABI for the use of genetic test results for these diseases to be fully reliable.

  2.4  As indicated, however, we do not take genetic tests results into account, unless negative.


  3.1  We do not anticipate using any positive genetic test results for Huntingdon's Disease in the foreseeable future. Similarly, we will not wish to use the results of tests for conditions that are not single gene defects or where there are also non-genetic influences.

  3.2  Our approach to risk assessment will follow the conventional approach of taking account of clinical factors, environmental aspects such as smoking and family history.


  4.1  The present regulatory system is based on the Code of Practice of the ABI. This requires an annual statement of compliance by the Chief Executive of each insurance company. The Code of Practice has provision for appeals and adjudication of any alleged breach of the code by an insurer. We believe the system to be effective.

19 January 2001

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