A proposal for a federal DNA database should make Americans feel vulnerable and violated.
The President of the United States is asking Congress to fund a “precision medicine” initiative. This means that, initially, about a million volunteers will have their genetic information extracted to assemble a database which will be used to individualize medical care. Another way to describe it is “targeted health care” based on a person’s DNA. This is one of those things which sounds good until you examine it more closely.
Although this initiative is starting with a group of volunteers, DNA blood samples are already routinely collected by law enforcement agencies and hospitals. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 3, 2013 that police can routinely take DNA samples from people who are arrested but not yet convicted of a crime. Even before that ruling, it had already been established practice in all 50 states to collect DNA samples from people who had been convicted of crimes.
Did you know that federal law requires that all newborn babies in the United States must be screened for genetic diseases? The “Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act of 2007” empowered the federal government to maintain a central clearinghouse of the genetic information of all American newborns. According to Twila Brase, president of Citizen’s Council on Health Care, “The DNA taken at birth from every citizen is essentially owned by the government, and every citizen becomes a potential subject of government-sponsored genetic research.”
Great Britain already has a federal DNA database. The National DNA Database (NDNAD) was created in the UK in 1995. It contained the genetic information of “virtually the entire active criminal population.” As of January 2014 there were nearly 6 million individuals in the British DNA database.
Apparently, there are plenty of people willing to share their genetic information in order to prove that they are not active criminals. In January 2015, police in Windsor, Canada went door to door with DNA testing kits to ask residents to voluntarily provide blood samples in order to clear themselves of suspicion in the murder of a pregnant woman. More than 500 residents were pleased to provide a blood sample. Only “a handful” declined.
The federal government wants “precision medicine” to become the standard of all medical care. And, since medical care is increasingly run by the state, the American people will soon have to accept involuntary extraction of their genetic information as the “new normal.” What’s next, taking DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane, attends a public school, or applies for a driver’s license? Why aren’t we more distressed about this? Has our definition of “privacy” so evolved that this personal intrusion should be acceptable?
Imagine how you would feel if you were a victim of a home burglary, knowing that a stranger had been in your home rifling through your personal belongings. Isn’t DNA sampling of our uniquely individual genetic information even more intrusive and intimate? We, as a nation, should all feel vulnerable and violated by this “precision medicine” initiative.