The Positive And Negative Effects of DNA Profiling Essay

This essay has a total of 2468 words and 15 pages.

The Positive And Negative Effects of DNA Profiling

Justin Broyles
Apr. 12, 1995
Justice Theory
Lance Miller

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
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
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 certain 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. Sophisticated DNA testing had revealed in
Frank's tissues a single 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 the fundamental principle of the
insurance business is "pooling uncertainty." The concept of adverse selection
also causes insurers much dismay. Adverse selection refers to the probability
that people privately aware of a medical problem are more likely to seek medical
insurance. This negates the insurers policy of setting premiums with accordance
to statistical information on the rates of illnesses and sicknesses in society.
"The whole foundation of insurance is based on the fact that we and the
insurance applicant are operating with equal levels of knowledge and ignorance."
Without this level of ignorance, insurance companies will lose their social
value as a means of spreading risk across groups of people.
Genetic engineering with respect to insurance does not stop here.
Further development could lead to a complete knowledge of who will develop a
disease and when. This will drastically effect the practicality of life
insurance policies. "I can see 20 or 30 years from now that life insurance
policies will be essentially accident policies, because everything else will be
foreseeable. The essence of insurance is you assess a risk against the unknown;
if there's no medical unknown, the only unknown is whether you're going to get
hit by a bus."
Another striking danger of insurance companies discriminating with
respect to a person's DNA profile is with infants. The companies may become
extremely hesitant in insuring babies who have a high susceptibility to certain
diseases. In fact there have been some cases where the insurers actually
demanded the parents to abort the fetus or risk losing insurance. This
obviously constitutes a blatant violation of people's rights. Plus, it
dangerously causes the insurance companies to begin to play the role of God,
that is, in deciding who should live and who should not. "By agreeing to pay
for some infants and not for others, insurance companies could inadvertently
practice a form of economic eugenics, based not on grand designs for a superrace
but on who requires the least expensive medical care." Perhaps, some form of
national health insurance is the only remedy for these problems. "Genetic
testing may provide the best reason yet for a nationalized health-care policy."
Continues for 8 more pages >>

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