The Positive And Negative Effects of DNA Profiling
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
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
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 harsher scrutiny in the area of genetic profiling and its
There is also a current effort to create a national database of DNA,
much like the existing database of fingerprints. Supposedly, the use of
numerical codes will allow huge databases to search for a match of a individual
DNA band. However, these matches are not 100 percent. This inconclusive
correlation between DNA patterns has led to a heated debate which has culminated
in federal court with Daubert vs. Merrel Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc. The ruling in
the Daubert case said that the acceptance by the scientific community is not
enough by itself to allow certain scientific techniques into court as evidence,
especially given the reality that a suspects entire future could hang in the
balance of a scientific finding.
Many people have argued that the use of a national DNA database
infringes on the individuals constitutional rights to privacy. However, law
officials have claimed that the