DNA analysis uses a process called DNA sequencing to analyse the genetic code of species and individuals. This has generated enormous theoretical and practical consequences. It has revolutionised modern science's ability to understand the origins of life and the human species in particular. On a practical level, DNA has provided forensic science and the field of genetic research equally revolutionary tools. However, as in all scientific advances, there are advantages and disadvantages.
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Civil Rights and Privacy
The common catchphrase for DNA analysis is DNA "fingerprinting." This has become a commonly used term because forensic science uses DNA profiling to identify people who have committed a crime and to identify people who are victims of crimes. However, identifying someone through DNA analysis has a far broader range of consequences than normal fingerprint identification. DNA analysis provides intimate insights and details about individuals and their families. If this information is not properly guarded, it runs the risk of subjecting the individual to genetic discrimination by various social institutions such as government, insurance companies, employers and schools.
A second concern is that police departments keep DNA samples on file from people who have not been not been convicted of any crime. Retention of people's DNA raises a series of ethical and social questions. Does an innocent person have the right to demand that her DNA information be deleted from police data bases? Should DNA information be shared by police and other authorities without the individual's consent? What are the risks involved?
The field of genetics and genetic counselling is the second-most common use of DNA analysis and information. The genetic information provided by DNA analysis is used to determine predispositions to illness and disease, and to determine issues of paternity and maternity.
The purpose of DNA analysis is to help patients and their families when confronted with difficult decisions. The analysis looks for gene mutations to determine genetic predispositions to particular diseases. However, the situation is not always clear.
DNA analysis does not remove uncertainty in every situation. Sometimes it is not possible to interpret the results in a straightforward manner. It is possible to find a mutation of unknown significance or to find no mutation at all. The degree of risk for the individual remains uncertain. Some physicians warn that the process of genetic counselling in inherently stressful and uncertain.
Genetic information gathered for the purposes of genetic counselling may also place the individual at risk if the hospital shares this information with insurers.
The issues raised by forensic science and genetic counselling highlight the legislative issues that are involved. Who can collect DNA samples? How are they stored? Can they be bought and sold? Can they be privately owned? In the United States, each state legislature decides independently if DNA can be sampled. All 50 states in the United States require that sex offenders submit DNA samples.
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