Washington Post on DNA Forensics

Posted by Osagie Obasogie April 22, 2008
Biopolitical Times

Check out these two recent articles in the Washington Post on DNA forensics, one on the eugenic implications of using genes to predict or explain peoples' behavior and the other on using DNA databases to conduct familial searches. Concerns about eugenics and the criminal justice system draw force from recent history, as the first article explains:

"Genes have had a rocky relationship with justice, dating at least to the early years of the last century, when eugenics laws encouraged forced sterilizations to break the cycle of "inherited criminality." "Shiftlessness, nomadism, pauperism all were assumed to have biological and genetic causes," said Jeffrey R. Botkin, a physician and ethicist at the University of Utah School of Medicine."

Stanford law professor Hank Greely is quoted in the second piece, providing an interesting example of how these developments can impact racial minorities:

"Greely estimates that at least 40 percent of the FBI database is African American, though they make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population. That is because in an average year, more than 40 percent of people convicted of felonies in the United States are African American, he said.

If the national database were used for familial searching, he said, and assuming that on average each person whose profile in the database has five first-degree relatives, authorities would be "putting under surveillance" roughly a third of the African American population, compared with about 7.5 percent of the European American population, he said.

"I don't think anybody's going to be falsely convicted," he said. "It's the time, hassle and indignity of being interviewed by the police. How much is that worth? How much does that cost a person? I don't know, but it's not zero."