DNA testing: pros and cons


MOSCOW. (Andrei Kislyakov for RIA Novosti) -

Although one might cite pros and cons to the idea of everyone being subject to giving a DNA sample to be included in a national or international databank, which will become mandatory as a law on DNA registration takes effect on January 1, 2009, they must realize that official institution of DNA-testing opens up broader possibilities.

Everyone will now get an opportunity to use these unique genetic data for heath control and treatment.

Yet, it is not as simple as that. To begin with, the bill was initiated by the Ministry of the Interior, which isn't even surprising, considering that the main goal of this law will have to do with the ministry's work.

The law envisages mandatory DNA registration for individuals convicted and serving sentences for grave crimes, for biological traces of unidentified persons found on accident scenes and unidentified dead bodies.

The government hasn't ruled out introducing mandatory DNA registration for military servicemen.

A federal genome data bank will be created to make this law functional. "It will help us effectively identify dead bodies via DNA analysis where other identification methods failed, as well as help fight crimes including terrorist attacks, murders and rapes. The very fact of having a DNA data bank will help prevent crimes, because part of potential criminals will probably refrain from such acts knowing of the impending punishment," argued Andrei Loginov, government envoy to the State Duma, the Russian parliament's lower house.

"We have studied successful foreign experience. In Britain, the first nation to legalize the collection of DNA samples, this kind of database helps expose 2,000 crimes a week," he added.

This seems very clear as far as criminals are concerned. But what about law-abiding people? What benefits will they get from the new law? They will also have an interest in it, because DNA testing will help them find out if they are likely to get any disease, and if they are, how high the risk and how grave the prospects.

Preventive measures could be taken if need be. Physicians could use the patient's genome information to develop adequate treatment.

It is easy to see the difference. Rather than live in apprehension knowing that someone of your family has died of cancer, one can take the DNA information and draw up personal plans involving medical help if necessary.

The new law has removed any formal reasons to refuse ordinary Russian DNA testing. One has to fill out an application form, pay a fee and take a voluntary DNA test.

The government plans to authorize forensic medical institutions which are part of the public healthcare system to do the tests in cooperation with expert departments of a federal executive authority in a region or a regional department of the interior.

There is a problem that, if there are too many Russians wishing to have a DNA test, the Interior and health Ministries will be unlikely to set up a relevant infrastructure soon enough.

The high cost of the test is another problem - around 3,600 rubles according to preliminary estimates. But this does not include the cost of operating advanced equipment and an expert's work. All costs might ad up to at least $1,000. There are offers of such tests online now, with similar prices.

However, these problems aren't even the most important. With DNA tests, a patient's medical file will contain information they would prefer to be confidential. But the whole idea of general DNA testing will only be effective if the data is stored in a single electronic database, which makes the confidentiality problem extremely pressing.

For example, the results of DNA testing might reveal that a person who is legally a child's isn't really a biological father. This information, if leaked, could trigger family tragedies and even more serious consequences.

There are a lot of ethical aspects to DNA testing even without marital fidelity. There are concerns in Western countries, where DNA testing is almost routine, that leakage of this kind of personal data might harm one's chances of getting a job if, say, an applicant does not fully comply with medical requirements a company has.

Russia is still a long way from this. However, one still feels uneasy reading reports on confidential police databases emerging on the market.

In other words, to apply the new law, the government will have to make sure that human rights are fully observed.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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