Monday, April 9, 2007

The Risks, Benefit & Costs Of DNA

Recent issues regarding DNA have been of great importance. One of those issues that has caused great concern is the desire of law enforcement agencies--from local, county, state and federal levels of government--to amass a huge database of DNA for use in solving crimes.

At first this sounds like a no-brainer. Using a DNA database to catch criminals sounds just like using fingerprints. The current process of using DNA requires some reason to request a suspects DNA. However, there have been encroachments on that process in many states that have passed a DNA collection process law. Under some such laws, anyone arrested is required to submit a DNA sample, but most laws require a conviction. This, too, sounds like a no-brainer, except when we realize that there are a number of DNA processing errors, including lab misconduct and errors. But anyone aware of the DNA fiascoes involved in the O.J. Simpson case, regardless of whether they believe the outcome of that case was correct or not, realizes that DNA is not an absolute science.

When the Human Genome Project was underway there was an international conference on the ethical consequences of such a powerfully compelling science. I was fortunate to be asked to contribute via online participation in this project. I raised concerns about privacy, the extension of use under the law enforcement umbrella, and the circumvention of human rights/civil liberties. While part of raising those issues is derived from being an American and believing in a system of justice where there is a presumption of innocence, certain specific rights against self-incrimination, and an incumbent requirement that the prosecution (aka government) must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, another part of raising those concerns was the human error factor.

While using the Human Genome database, or any other DNA-based database, for the purposes...
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Would you give your DNA to the government? Does it do the public any good? Can this process of DNA collecting be abused?

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