“DNA profiling (also called DNA testing, DNA typing, or genetic fingerprinting) is a technique employed by forensic scientists to assist in the identification of individuals on the basis of their respective DNA profiles.”1 Within a clinical context DNA profiling has many potential human uses; immigration applications, determining adopted siblings, paternity testing and of course criminal justice. Limitations of the procedure include; it can only give statistical probable data, it is ethically wrong according to some experts, this then reliable source will be easy to plant in crime scenes and of course minorities may abuse DNA manipulation.2 DNA profiling at its current state is a tool used to gather circumstantial evidence, within the forensic and healthcare fields. Without scientific thought this process is a revelation but many ethical issues including human rights have been foreshadowed. Should a DNA profile be taken from each newborn baby?
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the cornerstone for human genic makeup, which serves as an instruction manual and blueprint for everything in your body. The process of electrophoresis is used to gather ‘non coding DNA’ (areas of short tandem repeats, STRs) using restricting enzymes. There are two common methods of separation and detection, capillary electrophoresis and gel electrophoresis Almost 99.8% of our DNA is identical; accordingly this process focuses on that .2% that is different. 3
Crime scenes and paternity tests alike can be an influential factor in determining if someone was involved or is a relation respectively. Within the controlled paternity environment sufficient DNA can be obtained but under the contamination and pressures of a crime scene the process becomes increasingly difficult. Noncoding DNA is vital with this process; one drop of blood can produce the evidence needed to convict someone. Through the DNA that is collected restriction enzymes cut the DNA, producing STRs. These STRs which are then collected, copies are made through a process called Polymerase chain reaction (PCR).PCR has revolutionised the justice system; as evidence as small as a fingernail scraping can be the overriding factor in criminal cases. Although capillary electrophoresis is now more common, gel electrophoresis is the basic basis of creating a DNA profile. Electrophoresis then separates the DNA into different sized segments. The negatively charged DNA moves through the gel towards the positive charged electrode; smaller segments travelling further than larger ones. Radioactive probes are then added to the gel, producing an X-ray film with a distinct pattern representing the STR’s in a ‘profile’. Conversely the now ‘modern’ capillary electrophoresis produces the same information in a graph format. With this tool criminal convictions through sufficient matches can be made. Substantiations into parent children relationships are possible because half of each person’s 23 pairs of chromosomes come from their mother, and half from their father.4
DNA profiling within the wider community has many benefits, most important being forensic science. DNA samples from crime scenes could potentially determine the guilt or innocence of a potential criminal through the use of a DNA database. Blood, skin, hair and or even fingernails may be manipulated to inevitably be the overriding evidence needed to convict potential criminals.5 The National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) expects this technology to revolutionise the way the criminal system works and states; “The benefits of this new technology lie not only in detecting the guilty swiftly but also in eliminating the innocent from police inquiries.”6 Another useful advantage of DNA profiling is disaster victim identification. Through the production of a DNA database forensic scientists would be able to identify the body through DNA obtained from body parts or teeth. This process would be revolutionary as it is often difficult to identify victims after disasters such as bombing or fires. DNA profiling is also a useful tool in the paternity sector. Substantial chromosome matches can determine paternity ties, analysing and exploring family relationships. Advancements in technology are ongoing, but according to Bristol Universities Professor Jean Golding of Avon’s Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children; “Provided the proper safeguards are in place – the benefits to everyone could be enormous.”
While DNA Profiling will have the ability to revolutionise the way the social justice system works, there are of course disadvantages which could potentially hinder the project. “Some consider any request for a DNA sample to be a violation of an individual’s right to privacy and a violation of their civil liberties.”8 A DNA database will have to be produced to store all this information. A major concern of the project is this information being leaked into the public. As a DNA profile holds specific private information, job prospects, insurance companies may discriminate against the innocent.9 Not only physical effects, but the psychological affect know a shortened life is inevitable would take its toll emotionally. Secondly, this tool cannot be used to 100% certainty. Forensic scientists may use evidence in court that is not ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, it may strongly point in the direction of a suspect but without further technology, DNA profiling cannot be conclusive evidence.
Creating a DNA profile of all newborns is a tool for the future, but at today’s development has both advantages and disadvantages. Such advantages are; identification of individuals, disaster victim identification, immigration applications, determining adopted siblings, paternity testing and most importantly criminal justice. Conversely the disadvantages of this technology being used on all newborns are; it can only give statistical probable data, it is ethically wrong according to some experts, this then reliable source will be easy to plant in crime scenes and of course minorities may abuse DNA manipulation. DNA profiling at its current state is used to gain circumstantial evidence, a profile being taken of every newborn is a huge step into a new technological age.10
I believe that this is a project for the future. A DNA profile of all newborns is a gigantic task that needs to be planned out toughly before continuing. Ethical issues need to be compromised if not overcome. The price and feasibility of this project is vital in making correct informed assumptions, in any case I believe the modern world has space for a DNA profile database.
1 Define – DNA profiling, accessed 17 June 2011, <http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/DNA+Profiling>
2 DNA profiling June 2011, accessed 22 June 2011, <http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/DNA_Profiling>
3 What is DNA? June 20, 2011, accessed 28 June 2011, <http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/basics/dna>
4 Crierie, A & Greg, D 2011, Biology Essentials Workbook, 2nd edn, Adelaide Tuition Centre
5 Biotechnology Online- CSRIO, DNA profiling, Australian Government, accessed 28 June 2011 <http://www.biotechnologyonline.gov.au/human/dnaprofile.html>
6 Grey, R 2011, ‘New DNA profiling technology could tell police who suspects are in under an hour’, The Telegraph, 19th Of June, accessed 04 July 2011, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/8584014/New-DNA-profiling-technology-could-tell-police-who-suspects-are-in-under-an-hour.html>.
7 Kerswell, N., Should We Collect DNA From Every Newborn, accessed 04 July 2011
8 Nichole, D 28/02/2010, Discover The Pro’s and Con’s, accessed 05 July 2011, <http://www.brighthub.com/science/genetics/articles/65420.aspx>.
9 Nichole, D 28/02/2010, Discover The Pro’s and Con’s, accessed 05 July 2011, <http://www.brighthub.com/science/genetics/articles/65420.aspx>.
10 Human Genetics Commission, Profiling the Newborn, accessed 06 July 2011 <http://www.hgc.gov.uk/UploadDocs/Contents/Documents/Final%20Draft%20of%20Profiling%20Newborn%20Report%2003%2005.pdf>.