DNA TYPING AND SOCIETY

The introduction of any new technology is likely to raise concerns about its impact on society. Financial costs, potential harm to the interests of individuals, and threats to liberty or privacy are only a few of the worries typically voiced when a new technology is on the horizon. DNA typing technology has the potential for uncovering and revealing a great deal of information that most people consider to be intensely private. Examples might be the presence of genes involved in known genetic disorders or genes that have been linked to a heightened risk of particular major diseases in some populations.

Although DNA technology involves new scientific techniques for identifying or excluding people, the techniques are extensions and analogues of techniques long used in forensic science, such as serological and fingerprint examinations. Ethical questions can be raised about other aspects of this new technology, but the committee does not see it as violating a fundamental ethical principle.

A new practice or technology can be subjected to further ethical analysis by using two leading ethical perspectives. The first examines the action or practice in terms of the rights of people who are affected; the second explores the potential positive and negative consequences (nonmonetary costs and benefits) of the action or practice, in an attempt to determine whether the potential good consequences outweigh the bad.

Two main questions can be asked about moral rights: Does the use of DNA technology give rise to any new rights not already recognized? Does the use of DNA technology enhance, endanger, or diminish the rights of anyone who becomes involved in legal proceedings? In answer to the first question, it is hard to think of any new rights not already recognized that come into play with the introduction of DNA technology into forensic science. The answer to the second question requires a specification of the classes of people whose rights might be affected and what those rights might be.

Concerns about intrusions into privacy and breaches of confidentiality regarding the use of DNA technology in such enterprises as gene mapping are frequently voiced, and they are legitimate ethical worries. The concerns are pertinent to the role of DNA technology in forensic science, as well as to its widespread use for other purposes and in other social contexts. A potential problem related to the confidentiality of any information obtained is the safeguarding of the information and the prevention of its unauthorized release or dissemination; that can also be classified under the heading of abuse and misuse, as well as seen as a violation of individual rights in the forensic context.

Another factor to be weighed in a consequentialist ethical analysis is



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement