DNA Profiling Genetic engineering has developed and blossomed at a frightening rate in the last decade. Originating as merely an area of interest for scientists, genetic engineering has now become an area of which all people should be somewhat knowledgeable. DNA profiling has many uses, both positive and negative, in our society. Aside from its usefulness in many legal investigations, DNA profiling can be used in the workplace to discriminate against employees whose profiles could pose a financial risk. For example, genetic technology can and has been used to determine the capacity of a person to contract certain diseases, such as sickle-cell anemia, which could cause many employers to hesitate in the hiring and training of such people.In the early 1970’s, the United States began a carrier screening for sickle-cell anemia, which affects 1 in 400 African-Americans.
Many of those identified as carriers mistakenly thought they were afflicted with this debilitating disease. Furthermore, confidentiality was often breached, and in some cases, carriers were discriminated against and denied health insurance. Nevertheless, genetic profiling has been beneficial in paternity suits and rape cases, where the father or the assailant could be identified. However, despite its growing number of utilizations, DNA profiling is extremely hazardous when results are inaccurate or used to discriminate. The frequency of genetic testing in criminal investigations (more than 1,000 in the U.
S. since 1987) has been increasing dramatically despite the inconclusive testing by the scientific community in many aspects of forensic identification.A correlation between DNA patterns taken from a crime scene and taken from the suspect has often been enough to charge a person with the offense in spite of proof that some procedures for testing DNA are fallible by legal and scientific standards.
The complexity of scientific evidence, especially DNA profiling, has also caused many problems within the legal profession. It is no longer enough for attorneys or members of the jury to merely be knowledgeable about the law. People need to familiarize themselves with today’s scientific research rather than relying on the credentials of a scientific expert witness. Too often, jury members become in awe of the complicated, scientific terms used in court and take a scientist’s testimony as fact. Lawyers need to increase their scientific knowledge and keep up with ongoing research in order to competently question and understand scientific evidence put forth.
But these do not represent the only possible downfalls of DNA profiling in criminology. The involuntary seizure of one’s blood or hair undermines the constitutional rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Fourth Amendment (protection from unreasonable searches and seizures). Nevertheless, many argue that a DNA sample taken from a suspect could lead to an indictment or release of the individual and, thus, warrants an exception from the Fourth Amendment. Besides, one could make a plausible argument that, once held in custody, the seizure of a person’s strand of hair does not violate a suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights or rights of privacy because the hair is visible.
However, the use of DNA profiling does not end in criminal investigations. DNA testing has ventured out of the courtroom in an effort to show a genetic link between race and violent tendencies. If successful, this link will do nothing but justify prejudice attitudes toward minorities, particularly the black race.Furthermore, such biological approaches towards criminality do not take into account sociological factors, such as poverty, and would inevitably lead to the practice of controlling minority children with the use of therapeutic drugs or worse.
For this and other reasons, courts of all levels must implement harsher scrutiny in the area of genetic profiling and its uses. There is also a current effort to create a national database of DNA, much like the existing database of fingerprints. Supposedly, the use of numerical codes will allow huge databases to search for a match of a individual DNA band.
However, these matches are not 100 percent. This inconclusive correlation between DNA patterns has led to a heated debate which has culminated in federal court with Daubert vs.Merrel Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc. The ruling in the Daubert case said that the acceptance by the scientific community is not enough by itself to allow certain scientific techniques into court as evidence, especially given the reality that a suspects entire future could hang in the balance of a scientific finding. Many people have argued that the use of a national DNA database infringes on the individuals constitutional rights to privacy. However, law officials have claimed that the advantages this database presents for society supercede the individual’s rights. This dilemma can easily be associated to the “social contract” presented by Thomas Hobbes. In this contract, Hobbes believed that each individual should give up certain individual rights in order to achieve protection from the whole.
The forfeit of the right to privacy of one’s DNA can thus be considered one of these forfeited rights. A person must weigh the advantages of having a past, present, or future criminal’s DNA profile on database with the disadvantages of having one’s own. But the disadvantages will outweigh the advantages when private institutions develop access to this database and use the information for discriminatory purposes. The impending usage of a national DNA database poses many possible risks of political and commercial abuse of such information, along with the danger this information falling into the hands of unfriendly parties, are unpredictable. Such unpredictability, certainly, is a violation of people’s rights to privacy.For instance, if a private institution, such as a bank, an employer, or an insurance company, receives access to this information, it could influence decisions on loans, hiring practices, insurance rates, etc. Society, then, is faced with a conflict between an individual’s right to privacy in one’s genetic composition and the employer’s or insurance company’s interest in knowing about a person’s health problems. This conflict will constitute the remainder of this paper.
Over the next ten to fifteen years, scientists involved in the federal government’s “human genome project” will try to identify in detail each of the human cell’s estimated 100,000 genes. The knowledge derived from the project will enable physicians to detect an increasing number of diseases and predispositions for diseases.When Frank married at age 31, he decided to take out a life insurance policy. A swimmer and avid racquetball player with no previous hospitalizations, he felt cer- tain his low premiums would be a worthy investment for his family. Weeks later, after a routine physical exam, he was shocked by the insurance company’s response. Sophisti- cated DNA testing had revealed in Frank’s tissues a sin- gle missing copy of a so-called RB antioncogene and minor variations in two other genes. Computer analysis showed the molecular misprints more than tripled his risk of getting small-cell lung cancer by age 55.
His application was rejected. With the newfound ability to reveal an individual’s molecular secrets come significant new possibilities for discrimination. The medical records of people who apply for insurance are stored by the Medical Information Bureau, a data bank shared by a consortium of hundreds of insurers. Ethicists warn that genetic tests could tempt insurers to discriminate against the “healthy ill;” people who are not yet sick but who carry genetic traits predisposing them to future illness, such as in Frank’s case. However, these people may not be denied health insurance totally.Rather, they may be guaranteed a basic level of treatment and rationed out of more costly procedures.
For example, someone who carried the cystic fibrosis gene, even if asymptomatic, could be denied a lung transplant. The competitive nature of the industry may compel insurance companies to use genetic information, since …