All living organisms have DNA with the same chemical structure. The only difference between human and animal DNA lies in the order of base pairs. There are over millions of base pairs in each person’s DNA so that every individual has a very different sequence. Using these sequences, any person could almost easily be identified solely by the sequence of their base pairs. DNA fingerprinting allows scientists to determine whether two DNA samples belong to the same person, relatives, or totally non-related people.
Scientists use a small number of sequences of DNA that have been known to vary among individuals a great deal, and analyse those samples to get a certain probability of a match.
A British scientist, Alec Jeffreys, first perfected the technique of using DNA samples to extract a unique marker-sometimes called a “genetic fingerprint”-that ensured nearly absolute proof of identification. After the brutal rape and murder of two young women in the small English village of Narborough in 1986, police used Jeffreys’ DNA fingerprinting method to locate the culprit. (Rosen, C. 2010) Since then, DNA fingerprinting systems have played an increasingly important role in many aspects of human genetics, most notably in forensic and legal methods [Green, et al. (1991)].In more recent times, DNA fingerprinting’s impact on science, law and politics has been quite dramatic.
One common practice in countries such as the U.S is that a genetic fingerprinting profile of a citizen who comes across any kind of “run-in” (Big or small) with the law is kept in a database. Keeping such a database of not only convicted criminals but that of people who are proven innocent has caused much controversy. (Rosen, C).
DNA fingerprinting has been challenged in the past due to it validity in court cases because:
o The probability of finding a match for a particular DNA pattern was found by multiplying the probability of the separate loci in a particular reference population. ( Which they could only get from a smaller database)
o Samples may be contaminated because of bacterial growth in the sample before it was collected. Old samples may also break down and give inadmissible results. These samples may have extra bands or be missing bands.
o Quality controlled labs were very few and as a result, led to poor test quality. (Martin, C. 1992)
o Detailed fingerprinting had not yet been developed to establish procedures that could be followed during the DNA typing process to provide adequate documents to ensure DNA typing occurred within a particular standard.
Today, scientists as well as law enforcement officers are petitioning to create an international database in which every individual’s genetic fingerprint would be stored. An argument for or against the creation of such a database could easily be defended case by case.
It can be argued that the creation of an international data base can prove to have a positive impact in the field of science, law and on society because:
* With a vast database, quality and accuracy of genetic tests can be achieved and this information can be used for court proceedings.
* The application of DNA fingerprinting to forensic and legal medicine has guaranteed a high public profile for DNA fingerprinting, and scarcely a week goes by without crime being successfully solved by molecular genetics. [Jeffreys (1991)]. At the same time it ensures that every falsely accused citizen has a genetic alibi.
* In future it can aid in the identification of and decrease in the number of terrorists as well as prevent the use of their most common tool, identity theft.
* The use of genetic information will be used to study the interaction of genes, the environment, and health serving as an advantage to medical researchers.
* This database will also be made available to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies “to develop new drugs and treatments.”
* Individuals as well as families can receive genetic counselling and detect hereditary diseases that may run in their gene pool. This would give people knowledge of possible precautions they may need to take in the future to ensure good health. (SA Health Info, 2006 )
* With infidelity on the rise, it can also be used to end court disputes between couples by paternal testing.
But, despite promising a positive result that an international database could yield in the area of law and science in the future, it can also be argued that it would not necessarily have a full positive effect on society (mainly relating to the violation of civil liberties) because:
* The possibilities of individual countries selling the rights to their population’s genes to private companies such as in Iceland, Estonia and Tonga.
* There is insufficient regulation and oversight of how private companies may use genetic information. As a result:
; There is a serious concern that if made available, insurance companies may use the information and refuse to give life insurance to individuals at a genetic disadvantage due to disease in their genes.
; Similarly, companies may not give jobs to these individuals with genetic weaknesses as they may need regular or prolonged sick leave in the future.
Each person may vary in opinion on this topic based on whether or not it would affect them positively or negatively. As long as the donation of genetic samples of individuals are taken anonymously, voluntarily and FULLY privacy- protected, most information seems to indicate that the arguments for the development of genetic fingerprint profile for all members of society outweighs its arguments against it.
In my opinion, even though the development of a genetic profile database may not in itself violate the international civil liberties (Walsh, R. 2006), there is no guarantee that this information may not be leaked or be accessed by third parties that may later discriminate against “genetically weak” individuals. For this reason, I am against the development of a genetic fingerprint profile for all members of society.