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Genetic Engineering: DNA Testing and Social Control

DNA Testing and Social Control

Pragmatism is the name of the game when it comes to taking away freedom. The public tends to be against any attempt to curtail civil liberties across the board. It is standard practice, however, to for the government to violate the rights of certain groups in the name of public safety or to fight crime. This is what is happening with the government collection of DNA samples.

The state of New York announced on August 5 that it intends to collect DNA samples from every person in prison, on parole, or in probation in that state for one of a specified list of crimes. Included on this list are murder, sex crimes, drug dealing, and some drug offenses. The samples will be digitized and placed on state computers. Once this database has been establish, police will be able to search it in order to find a match with evidence found at crime scene.

New York is not alone in doing this. All 50 states maintain a DNA database of some type. Mostly though it is only individuals convicted of sex crimes that have their records stored. Eight states sample DNA at a level comparable to the New York proposal. In Louisiana the police actually take and keep DNA samples from any person that they arrest.

Proponents of expanding the use of DNA tests in the legal arena like to point out that these tests will exonerate truly innocent individuals. DNA tests have exonerated some wrongly imprisoned people but it is disingenuous to think this is the real reason for growing use of DNA tests. The real reason for all of this is, of course, to help prosecutors obtain more convictions. It is thus worth keeping in mind that the criminal justice system currently reflects deep class and race biases. Journalist and attorney David Cole argues persuasively in his recently published book No Equal Justice that this is no accident. Rather law enforcement, the legal system, and the prison system operate in a way that insures the disproportionate imprisonment of poor people and people of color. If the government only conducts DNA tests of people convicted of crimes, it will fortify and expand this already unfair process.

Of course one possible way to blunt these biases is to take DNA samples from absolutely everybody. This might seem Orwellian but there is a certain logic to it.

Genetic Engineering: Genetic Research and Gene Therapy

Genetic Research and Gene Therapy

The human genome is the key to gene therapy, genetic diagnosis, and even to genetically engineer human beings. The human genome is a map of the entire DNA sequence, a blue book, of the individual, which is currently being mapped by the Human Genome Project. Knowing where and which gene controls what trait and causes what genetic disease will armed doctors with a powerful tool to treat their patients in the molecular level. On the other hand, people can jump at the opportunity to manipulate genes to create the perfect baby or enhance a specific trait. One of the few ways of achieving these goals is through research on human embryos.

Genetic research on human embryo has two implications. One in therapeutic research (to detect, and hopefully correct gene flaws), which is more practical, and the other is parents deciding how their child should look (or an extreme word, eugenic). The latter, which in the present is wishful thinking but will be a reality in the future if the technology becomes feasible. This paper will mainly discuss the therapeutic research (the medical practice and technological aspect of genetic engineering on embryos) to show what can be done medically and its implications. The consequences, moral and ethical issue of genetic research on human embryos will not be discuss in length here, for it is a topic in other groups and within my group.

Currently in therapeutic research, one of the things that can be done is a process call Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). PGD is a new medical treatment that incorporates the technology of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the ability to genetically removed a single cell from an 8-cell embryo to detect any genetic abnormalities (Forbidden Knowledge). In this way, “couples at high genetic risk [will have the] opportunity to start their pregnancy knowing that their baby will not have a lethal inherited disease” rather than stress by deciding whether or not to undergo a prenatal test such as amniocentesis, which requires the pregnancy be at least 15 weeks (Forbidden Knowledge). Some of the major genetic diseases that can be detected are Cystic Fibrosis, Huntington’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, some form of cancers (Carmosino), aneuploidy chromosomes for chromosome 13, 18, 21, X, and Y (Jones), and sickle-cell anemia (Henig, 58).

Gene therapy, which is in is early stages will greatly benefit from embryo research.

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