Apr. 12, 1995
Genetic engineering has developed and blossomed at a frightening rate in the last decade. Originating as merely an area of interest for scientists, genetic engineering has now become an area of which all people should be somewhat knowledgeable.
DNA profiling has many uses, both positive and negative, in our society. Aside from its usefulness in many legal investigations, DNA profiling can be used in the workplace to discriminate against employees whose profiles could pose a financial risk. For example, genetic technology can and has been used to determine the capacity of a person to contract certain diseases, such as sickle- cell anemia, which could cause many employers to hesitate in the hiring and training of such people. In the early 1970's, the United States began a carrier screening for sickle-cell anemia, which affects 1 in 400 African-Americans. Many of those identified as carriers mistakenly thought they were afflicted with this debilitating disease. Furthermore, confidentiality was often breached, and in some cases, carriers were discriminated against and denied health insurance. Nevertheless, genetic profiling has been beneficial in paternity suits and rape cases, where the father or the assailant could be identified. However, despite its growing number of utilizations, DNA profiling is extremely hazardous when results are inaccurate or used to discriminate.
The frequency of genetic testing in criminal investigations (more than 1,000 in the U.S. since 1987) has been increasing dramatically despite the inconclusive testing by the scientific community in many aspects of forensic identification. A correlation between DNA patterns taken from a crime scene and taken from the suspect has often been enough to charge a person with the offense in spite of proof that some procedures for testing DNA are fallible by legal and scientific standards.
The complexity of scientific evidence, especially DNA profiling, has also caused many problems within the legal profession. It is no longer enough for attorneys or members of the jury to merely be knowledgeable about the law. People need to familiarize themselves with today's scientific research rather than relying on the credentials of a scientific expert witness. Too often, jury members become in awe of the complicated, scientific terms used in court and take a scientist's testimony as fact. Lawyers need to increase their scientific knowledge and keep up with ongoing research in order to competently question and understand scientific evidence put forth.
But these do not represent the only possible downfalls of DNA profiling in criminology. The involuntary seizure of one's blood or hair undermines the constitutional rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Fourth Amendment (protection from unreasonable searches and seizures). Nevertheless, many argue that a DNA sample taken from a suspect could lead to an indictment or release of the individual and, thus, warrants an exception from the Fourth Amendment. Besides, one could make a plausible argument that, once held in custody, the seizure of a person's strand of hair does not violate a suspect's Fourth Amendment rights or rights of privacy because the hair is visible.
However, the use of DNA profiling does not end in criminal
investigations. DNA testing has ventured out of the courtroom in an effort to show a genetic link between race and violent tendencies. If successful, this link will do nothing but justify prejudice attitudes toward minorities, particularly the black race. Furthermore, such biological approaches towards criminality do not take into account sociological factors, such as poverty, and would inevitably lead to the practice of controlling minority children with the use of therapeutic drugs or worse. For this and other reasons, courts of all levels must implement...